Christopher Newport University (visited 2/1/19)
“This is a place where I can do everything I wanted and more,” said a student.
I hadn’t been to CNU in about 10 years … and I never would have recognized it (other than the somewhat iconic curved/columned front of the Performing Arts Center). The state has invested about $1billion into the campus, and it shows. Campus is stunning. This is the 2nd smallest Virginia public institution with just under 5000 undergraduates (only Mary Washington is smaller), and they’d like to keep the enrollment where it is. It’s working for them: they have the 12th highest graduation rate of the 592 public institutions in the country.
The Admissions department says, “We’re recruiting a graduating class. Successful graduates are civic and engaged leaders; they get involved. Our job isn’t to lift the bar – it’s to tap it upwards to help them.” They promote the value that they care equally about hearts and minds. “There’s a culture of compassion here. It’s a speaking culture. People say hello and acknowledge others.”
Diversity is an issue, and the admissions department is working hard to rectify that. CNU now has 21% self-identified students of color (another big improvement over the last 10 years or so) but “the work is not done,” said the Director of Admissions. “If you can’t learn in an diverse world, you won’t make it. We send the most senior staff into the most diverse high schools.” They just adopted a value statement, and the Diversity Counsel includes students.
A big value at CNU is living “a life of significance” and see leadership as a hallmark of this. The President’s Leadership Program (PLP) might be their flagship specialty program. Cohorts of about 100 students are chosen every year, mostly coming from Early Action and Early Decision application pools (these students get priority); acceptance to the program comes with a scholarship. Students should have at least a 3.5 GPA and a 1250 SAT/26 ACT to be competitive. Students within this program have some flexibility in their co-curricular activities through speakers and other events. They intentionally created a minor in Leadership Studies (all PLP students earn this) to complement their major of choice.
They want students to have the freedom to explore different areas during the first two years on campus. Because of this, students do not declare their major until the second semester of their sophomore year (although of course they’re more than welcome to start taking classes in their areas of interest before then). Sophomore Signing Day is a major tradition: students come to the ballroom and the formally declare their majors by signing their names in the book with their new department where they’re welcomed by faculty and upperclassmen in the major.
CNU has developed a slightly different take on the Core curriculum. The first of two parts is a Liberal Learning Curriculum which encompasses 5 areas of literacy: written communication, economics, logic, math, and a second language at the 200 level. There are also several “Areas of Inquiry” that align more with what would be considered a typical core curriculum at many schools (creative expression, science, global perspectives, etc). Students in the Honors College (which brings in about 125 new students each year) can substitute out some of their Core classes with Honors requirements.
Other academic information to take note of includes:
Freshmen are given their First Semester schedules; this raised a few eyebrows from the counselors, but the students said they liked that because it reduced stress and anxiety.
- Classes are kept small; there are only three lecture halls, each with about 100 seats so no class can be larger than that. Only 3% of classes have more than 60 students; 63% have fewer than 20.
- In addition to fairly straight-forward majors, CNU offers some cool minors such as International Business and Culture, Digital Humanities, Civic Engagement, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Military Science, Philosophy of Law, US National Security Studies, and Museum Studies.
Their accredited, #44 ranked business school boasts a 97% placement rate in grad schools “or jobs they desire to be in.” About 1000 students say that they are interested in business; about 200 juniors matriculate. Interested students must complete pre-reqs, have at least a 3.0 GPA, and apply for entry in sophomore year.
- 10-12 incoming students get invited into the Biotechnology and Management Program; they must meet Honors College criteria including a 3.75 GPA and a 1250 SAT.
- I asked 2 students about their favorite classes. One said Afro-Caribbean Dance: “It’s one of the most popular classes to fulfill the core requirement.” The other student loved his Politics of Weapons Proliferation class: “It’s one of the hardest classes to get into. The professor still works at Los Alamos labs.”
- They fill 6 sections of Donor (Cadaver) Lab each semester.
- They’re ABET accredited for Computer Engineering and are going through process for Electrical, applied retroactively for graduates once it’s granted.
- Students interested in a 5-year Masters in teaching, Envi Bio, Applied Physics, or Computer Science program must apply by 2/1 of Junior year.
- They award 55 Summer Stipends for research each year.
Almost all first-year students (98%) and almost 80% of the total undergrad population live on campus, even though they only have a 3-year residency requirement. The dorms are modern – and amenities, particularly for upperclassmen (such as laundry in the apartments that juniors and seniors live in) – make it worth staying on campus. Coming in, students are often placed in an LLC (students have 2-3 classes in common) or at least with people of the same/similar major or interests. Greek Life is fairly popular (about ¼ of men and 1/3 of women); there are 4 Greek mansions with plans to build more.
Food is excellent, and the dining hall has a lot of options including a Mongolian Grill. This is only one of two Virginia schools where they don’t contract out and everything is made fresh on campus. Got rid of the blue lights and put the police number on the ID cards.
CNU Athletics has the highest winning percentage in VA at 78%. They’re DIII except for sailing; “We live right near the water. We’d be crazy not to have a team.” The athletic facilities are excellent – but surprisingly, “We don’t have a pool which is a bit of a struggle for the team.” We talked to a swimmer at lunch; he kind of shrugged off the travel time to practice: “it’s only about 10 minutes away.”