Norfolk State University
Norfolk State University (visited 1/31/19)
I was impressed with the spaciousness, greenery, and attractive brick buildings on NSU’s campus (and I found out later that the campus used to be a golf course! That helps explain the terrain and why it’s so open and green). This is located in a great group of college-towns with schools like Old Dominion, William & Mary, Christopher Newport, Hampton, Virginia Wesleyan, and others all less than an hour away.
This is one of many HBCUs in Virginia and is a member of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. It was started as a chapter of Virginia Union (another HBCU near Richmond) (It seems like a lot of Virginia schools were off-shoots of other schools). Not surprisingly, they pull about ¾ of their students from Virginia, and the student body is heavily female (about 2/3).
Students like NSU’s size – it gives enough for some options and variety, but not so large that you fall through the cracks. Students said the professors are accessible and want to teach. However, they say that although a lot of the academic buildings have been worked on and the main quad gives a great first impression, the dorms and some other student life areas need a lot of work. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support transitioning into college life.
I visited campus in the late afternoon, around 4pm. There were almost no students around campus which was a disappointment. I was unable to get much of a sense of the campus culture from the students I encountered. While a majority of freshmen live on campus, well under 40% of the overall population lives there. The number of commuters give it a “touch and go” feel (and the parking lots were nowhere near full at 4:00 which tells you how quickly people leave classes after campus). Parking seems to be adequate; there’s that going for the school. “Social life isn’t all that active. We have good sports [they’re DI] but we go off campus a lot,” said one student. The city provides a decent amount to do, “but it’s the typical stuff in town – but the beaches are great, or we’ll go to Hampton to hang out.”
This all may feed into retention. While their freshman-to-sophomore retention rate was decent (hovering around 75%), they can definitely do better – and their graduation rate (in the mid-30%) worries me a great deal. I would not feel comfortable sending students here based on that alone. Students mentioned that financial aid was a bit of a hassle (but I’m not sure if it’s any more so than at other schools); this may be one of the barriers to completion.