Southern Virginia University (visited 11/3/16)
SVU is a Latter-day Saints school; they are not owned by the church but have adopted their honor code, and 90% of their students are Mormons. “We get no money from the church which means we can do things our way,” said the Director of Admissions. Students do not need to attend any church services, but they do need to pledge to live by LDS values such as not using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and not engaging in pre-marital sex. “This is an environment of clean living; it’s a safe faith-based environment.”
“We’re not going to have a lot of the bling or flash that you might be used to,” the Admissions Director told us. This began as a finishing school for girls in 1867. The current property was built up as a hotel resort but turned over before it ever operated as one, becoming Southern Seminary (still all female) and kind of a partner school to W&L and VMI (both all male). The main building is beautiful and fancy; the barn/stables for the resort has been turned into the athletic center. In the 1990s, financial problems caused the school change its name to Southern Virginia College and go coed, but was still about to close when a businessman in Richmond bailed them out in 1996. He felt that there needed to be another option on the East coast for an Honor Code based environment.
With 800 students, the school is still small; they would love to grow and be more diverse. Geographic diversity is already big. Half the students come from Virginia and surrounding states, but there were more out-of-state plates than I’ve seen at any other school. Not surprisingly, several were from Utah. In terms of religion, “We don’t care what religion people are, but all applicants do have to sign off on the Honor Code.” LDS members will have a bishop sign the statement as well stating that the students will be willing and able to abide by this; non-members have another adult do this. “People here don’t necessarily know who is and who isn’t a member of the Mormon Church because they’re all good kids.”
The sports-culture is huge here, and about 50% of students are on a varsity team. The Director of Admissions is a former football player for Oklahoma (which he mentioned a lot). Although we never got to talk to any students directly (the tour was given by the Director and there was no student panel), we saw a lot of kids around, and many of them were introduced briefly, and almost all were on a sports team. The university has 20 teams which was an enrollment-based decision; they’re 4 years into the NCAA experience, playing in the NJAC for football and CAC (Capital Athletic Conference) for others. There are two new grass fields and an artificial turf field. They have a strength/conditioning coach for each sport and 4 athletic trainers. “It’s not about winning championships. It’s about being engaged.”
I did get to talk to a student for about a minute when I split off from the group quickly; she loves the opportunities here. “I came here from Idaho without ever seeing the school. I’m an RA and play sports.”
Beyond sports, a lot of students participate in music. They offer scholarships, and students can submit videos to be considered for these. They also have a dance studio.
“This is a small liberal arts education without the normal cost.” Almost everyone is out in 4 years if not 3.5. They get one of the highest student engagement rates in the country. There are scholarships for returning students like the Nice Scholarships (just be nice!) or Cowboy/Cowgirl Ethics Award. Students can get a mission scholarship; this can be granted for Peace Corps service; it doesn’t have to be religious.
Academic offerings are standard for a small liberal arts school. The Education program – Music, Elementary, and Spanish – in done in conjunction with Washington & Lee.
Dorms are single-sex (and apparently there are no kitchens in the male dorms). Many students are housed up a hill on the side of campus where some new dorms were recently constructed. The dining hall is very small with limited food options; food is served on movable heating carts reminiscent of Chinese buffets. The couple kids I asked said that the food “was good.”