Another Virginia College on the Endangered List


The restructuring of higher ed in Virginia continues with relentless efficiency. First St. Paul’s College. Then Virginia State University. Then Sweetbriar College. Now it’s the Appalachian School of Law.

At its peak enrollment, ASL in Grundy (far Southwest Virginia, for the Virginia-geography impaired) had 150 students in the graduating class. The incoming class for 2014 was 45, and the next class will drop again this fall, according to the TaxProf blog. The faculty has dropped from 14 full-time professors to eight.

ASL has entered into discussions with Emory & Henry College to work out a possible affiliation. Meanwhile, writes the TaxProf:

We have heard from many members of the ASL Alumni Association. Everyone we spoke to says they are worried about their school. They believe the ASL Board of Trustees isn’t doing enough pro-actively to save it and may have missed opportunities in the past. They fear the school will close if something isn’t done soon. … [T]he Alumni Association is looking at all options including legal action against the board the trustees. …

In an effort to get students in the doors (which is basically tuition), ASL has joined a growing number of law schools that are lowering their requirements. This means bringing in students who may not otherwise get into law school. … In July 2014, the percentage of people who passed the bar in Virginia was 68% compared to 42% of ASL students that was the lowest rate for any law school located in the Commonwealth.


Clarification: The wording of my first paragraph has confused at least two readers. I do not mean to imply that all four colleges listed are threatened with closing. I do mean to say that they have had widely publicized financial difficulties, which in at least once case has led to closing.

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17 responses to “Another Virginia College on the Endangered List”

  1. I don’t want to mock anyone but I wonder what it takes for a kid or his parent to say – “yessiree.. we’re going to … _fill in your favorite small college in the boondocks….___

  2. Looks like an old high school building. No dis to Grundy, but the legal profession is going through some major gyrations these days leaving new hires at risk, and a school producing only new hires near the bottom of the food chain has to be at least equally at risk.

  3. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    This is another great story on failed rural revitalization efforts. There was this idea that “Hey, higher ed seems to produce economic development. Let’s put up a law school and pharmacy school in Grundy. The town will boom.” It has not. Good story there for an enterprising journalist.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “massive restructuring?” Virginia State is not closing. They got a new president.Why do you put them in the “closing” category? It is a gross overstatement.

    1. Of course, I have a little different “take” on this.

      and at the top – anyone who thinks the young in Grundy don’t need a higher education is suffering from some kind of derangement so having a small college there go down is not a reflection of Grundy’s needs or lack of an ability to properly support that kind of school.

      I think these smaller schools are relics of a bygone era – much like the old mills that used to dot the landscape throughout rural Virginia that some of which have been restored and are interesting places to visit to see how folks lived before the advent of more advanced technology.

      we don’t bemoan the “loss” of these mills to place like Grundy… for a good reason…

      but the good folks of Grundy – the kids – more than ever – they need access to a modern education and these older smaller colleges were not meeting that need anyhow.

      old mills, mom & pop stores, and much more has gone away and if not good riddance – then at least a recognition that some things really do become obsolete and no long a need.

      these smaller colleges that do survive are still not modern education facilities tailored to kids who graduate high school and need post HS education in order to compete for modern jobs.

      Community Colleges do that much better – in m view, in part, because they are more affordable and in my view should become even more affordable or even free for economically disadvantaged who demonstrate core academic performance, i.e. reading, writing, math and science.

      I’m not sure I see the same bigger higher ed picture that others see, in part, because these smaller colleges existed long ago – at the same time we had
      major big institutions so there was some kind of a niche for the smaller ones but their loss – as said upthread – is not a loss to most kids looking for a place to go to college.. it’s just a rearranging … and my only concern is that we do have a Community College for the kids who never could afford a small private college – anyhow.

    2. I don’t put Virginia State in the “closing” category. I put it in the “deep doo doo” category. ASU hasn’t announced that it’s closing either. But it’s in trouble. Virginia State looks to be on a more gentle glide path downward, but it’s still heading down.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Both Norfolk State and Virginia State are showing signs of stress, but neither has closed. Sweet Briar, it seems to me, was under even less stress than they are, but it’s board may be right in anticipating a continued slide. Perhaps they were right to act before things deteriorated. It is a private school and thus that is their decision, as far as I’m concerned. NSU and VSU are public schools. It is time for a real discussion of how to strengthen them because the trend line is ominous.

    I always wondered how successful a stand-alone professional school out in Grundy could be, but a relationship with either Emory and Henry (a wonderful school where my grandfather and uncle graduated) or Virginia Tech (my Dad and brother’s school) might be the ticket. Tech now has a medical school. When the gloom and doom about higher education starts to get too thick, I tend to think about the incredible success stories in Virginia like Tech and I cheer up. But it is the growth of mega-universities that is adding to the stress on the little schools.

    1. Cville Resident Avatar
      Cville Resident

      The difference is that the VT/Carillion Medical School is located in Roanoke. Placing a med school in a nice, small metro is one thing….Placing those schools in Grundy (which is completely isolated) was an enormous mistake.

      One thing that I’ve been studying is the destructive effects of provincialism and the Tobacco Commission to Southside/SWVA. The region had a nice metro (Roanoke). Rather than spread out and ultimately waste the resources, why didn’t the Tobacco Commission allocate its resources towards the Roanoke/Blacksburg area and attempt to strengthen and enlarge that area (where there was a fighting chance for the region) rather than spread it all so thin….ASL and the Pharmacy school are good examples of spreading the region’s limited resources thin.

      1. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        Why are the investments so spread out? Because of who serves on the commission and makes the decisions – mostly elected officials. They really take great political risk unless they are bringing the bacon home. What people want and what they need seldom correspond well.

        I was traveling with a statewide candidate once and after a day in the SW VA area, making speeches in which he pledged to revive their local economy, he got in the car and said the people should just move to where the jobs are. And he had a point. But nobody is going to say it out loud. My family is from out there back to the American Revolution. Other than a cousin in Blacksburg, none of my family is left out there.

  6. Sweet Briar College was created at a time when most Virginia public colleges did not accept women. And now we have lost a number of private colleges over the decades: Sullins in Bristol, Virginia Intermont in the Bristol area, Marion in Marion, Stratford in Martinsville and St Paul’s recently among several others. And some have changed as Averitt now takes men; Randolph Women’s college changed their name to just Randolph College etc. Now women dominate college enrollments and that trend is growing. They can go anywhere they qualify academically and they are.
    And Virginia State was created to provide education for Blacks in a time of segregation and now choosing a historically Black college is not what young Blacks are doing. And as a result dozens of historically Black institutions across the country from Virginia State to St. Paul’s to South Carolina State to Wilberforce in Ohio and on and on are facing challenges because like Sweet Briar they are focusing on a sharply declining demographic pool
    This comes as a time when the pool of traditional college age Americans is declining resulting in enrollments across the country declining.
    Driving down a road full of pot holes while focused on the rear view mirror is not a good strategy. I have no doubt that these institutions can find a new and vibrant vision/mission but not if they insist on gazing too hard at that rear view mirror.
    PS That applies to law schools where enrollment nationwide are declining.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Yep. It is time for a real conversation about current and future role of the historically African-American institutions. Some will survive, but not all will, and that’s fine. But the contributions they have made cannot be calculated they are so great, and the potential for another century of leadership is still there. The role might be slightly different. You no longer have to be Irish or Catholic to go to Notre Dame, do you? Imagine if Hampton became as attractive as Notre Dame?

  7. And then there is Liberty University that is growing like topsy.

    I think Wade has a point that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and small, liberal arts women’s colleges both were created to serve demographic segments that were excluded to a greater or lesser degree from the major universities. As larger universities opened up, the HBCUs and women’s colleges had to transform themselves. Some have done so successfully, others have not. In the meantime, new niches have opened up.

    Liberty serves a market niche — a Christian education in a secular world — which it has supplemented through aggressive use of online learning. Liberty’s niche is secure for the foreseeable future. Mainstream colleges and universities are becoming more secular, not less.

    1. re: “And he had a point. But nobody is going to say it out loud.”

      you can get the kids to move but the parents are often land-locked. It’s the only life they’ve known and their job skills are not going to do them any good but neither can their kids if they are not better equipped educationally for where the jobs are.

  8. While I do not know much about Liberty University I think their two part strategic plan is a good one. A growing middle age population without a college degree is a rich pool of customers. And building a solid campus academic program which is extended via traditional and non-traditional delivery systems is something we will see at places like George Mason in the near future.

    1. Liberty, as I understand, is one of the biggest online Universities in the country.

      gotta give those Christians credit… they know how to do business!

  9. I think Liberty U. has about 13,000 traditional students on campus but tens of thousands of older students taking courses and getting degrees through non-traditional means such as on line.
    Northern Virginia Community College now has more than 75,000 total enrollment.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Question: How good are Liberty’s online classes?

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