Don’t Forget ODU!

In a recent post I addressed the issue of STEM programs in Virginia’s public universities. The column prompted a response from James V. Koch, a former president of Old Dominion University who has dedicated recent years to examining the issue of affordability and governance in higher education. Notes Koch (whose books I have favorably reviewed):

Those who post on Bacon’s Rebellion or write for Times-Dispatch often seem ignorant of anything east of Williamsburg.  … Note that Old Dominion University ranks 4th in terms of the total number of STEM baccalaureate degrees granted and 2nd in terms of STEM intensity.

ODU is the Rodney Dangerfield of Virginia higher ed — it can’t get no respect. Unlike Rodney, ODU deserves more respect than it gets. — JAB

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30 responses to “Don’t Forget ODU!

  1. That is a good point. ODU is overlooked in many respects. That may be that it is only relatively recently that it has come into its own.

  2. Totally agreed. ODU has done a lot with less – you don’t see them screaming up on the news like UVa or Tech with those multi billion dollar endowments. They work to make do and make their cases quietly and efficiently. Did any one make comments on how, in the 1 week ODU closed, they were able to get all/transition the 25K students online and staff too when the universities were closed down last year? How about what they’ve been doing with COVID and how they’ve been managing?
    On top of that, how much is given to ODU’s leadership in online learning AND in their MSVE programs? Modeling, Simulation, Visualization and Engineering program? They’ve been revamping several buildings. The ancient Pretlow Planetarium, for example, does a great job (even with no bathrooms in the building) and they’ll be getting a new one. They’re working to improve that.

  3. I’ve said for years that Tidewater is the area of Virginia with the most unrealized potential. It already has the scale that Charlottesville lacks. It has the natural beauty that NoVa and Richmond lack. There’s plenty of room for sensible, high density expansion. There are plenty of “new collar” jobs already. Maybe somebody can tell me why this place isn’t booming like Charlotte, Austin, Nashville, etc. And to be clear – I really like the area and the people I know from there.

    • The answer to your question – regular flooding in the lowest areas and the potential for catastrophic flooding.

      I spent several years trying to convince the Governor and the GA to pass legislation that I drafted and got introduced in the House to make the state a partner with the Corps of Engineers to create long-term catastrophic flooding solutions in Hampton Roads as it has in SE Louisiana/New Orleans and in Port Arthur/Galveston/Houston.

      Under those programs, the federal government pays 2/3 of the costs of both planning and execution, not counting the 100% contributions of the military services for coordinated protections for their massive bases.

      All that needed to happen is for the state to declare itself the federal partner and pony up a few million dollars for all of the flood mitigation planning statewide, not just in Hampton Roads.

      Unfortunately, our elected leaders could not see past their next campaign contributions to actually do anything remotely visionary. The concept was actually opposed by some Hampton Roads legislators who had a different plan to funnel money to William and Mary and ODU to study the problem ad infinitum. The results of that study is that those schools and their scholars have declared the New Orleans and Houston solutions “unrealistic” for Hampton Roads because of costs. This even though Hampton Roads flooding presents a national security issue not present in New Orleans or Houston.

      They recommend instead planting trees, raising some houses and, wait for it, funding for further study.

      That is where we stand today.

      • By that logic Amsterdam should be moribund too. But it’s not. From 2010 to 2020 that city’s population grew by 13.6%. In the US, Boston, NYC, Charleston, Tampa, Miami Beach and New Orleans are all flood prone. Charleston, for example, had a city population of under 70,000 in 1980 and clocks in at 137,566 today. Tampa grew by 19.1% from 2010 to 2019.

        We should change our state motto from “Virginia is for Lovers” to “Virginia is for Excuses”.

        • Miami is a ticking flooding time bomb as bad as Hampton Roads. Charleston and Tampa and, less catastrophically, Boston and NYC are also threatened.

          As for growth, population of Virginia Beach doubled between 1980 and today as well.

          Virginia politicians will either step up to address the Commonwealth’s 1/3 of the costs of protecting Hampton Roads or send “thoughts and prayers” after the event. Given the controlling corruption in Richmond, it will be the latter

          • Miami, Charleston and Tampa may be ticking time bombs but they’re growing like weeds too.

            Fair point on Virginia Beach. Maybe Tidewater (or Hampton Roads) is too large a geography to be useful for coherent study. And it seems to me (from afar) that Virginia Beach has done a very good job on developing the tourism industry.

            As Northam and his tax and spend cronies among the Democrats continually hike Virginia’s taxes I hope the Republicans begin to ask why efforts like protecting Hampton Roads are not getting done.

      • Now we agree. It’s not the flooding but our inept state government’s unwillingness to address the flooding.

        Once upon a time Virginia was a low tax state. No more. We have moved through the mid tier and are working our way up from there. At what point do we demand high end results from a state government that takes a high level of taxes?

        Kirk Cox, are you listening?

    • There are probably two main reasons it is not booming like those other areas. One has to do with the Virginia system of independent cities and the racial division among the cities. Another reason is the division of the localities from each other by major bodies of water. The deal by the McDonnell administration to impose significant tolls on the bridges separating Norfolk and Portsmouth certainly did not help matters.

      • Those tolls got the tunnels built and modernized by private industry. One can now actually plan to drive between Norfolk and Portsmouth. Whether the deal was a good one or not is worthy of debate, but no other solution could get political support. For another example of political incompetence, see catastrophic flooding mitigation.

      • I’m with you on the independent cities flaw as well as the racial stratification that naturally followed. As I say, our constitution needs to be rewritten.

        The body of water theory is a two edged sword. California’s Bay Area has that problem. Tampa has that problem. NYC has it in spades. One the one hand, you have salt water – which is something many people crave. On the other, you have to invest in transportation.

        If high tolls thwarted growth NoVa would be a skeleton. Here are the NoVa population growth numbers:

        1930 – 1940: +30.3%
        1940 – 1950: +63.8%
        1950 – 1960: +61.2%
        1960 – 1970: +41.9%
        1970 – 1980: +21.4%
        1980 – 1990: +33.0%
        1990 – 2000: +24.8%
        2000 – 2010: +24.0%
        2010 – 2009: +13.0%

        More fun with population numbers-

        That’s a CAGR of 3% over 89 years. Virginia’s CAGR of population (including NoVa) during that same period was 1.43%. Virginia, exclusive of NoVa, grew at 1% over those 89 years.

        Over the same period, the US grew by 1.11% (CAGR)

    • Just calling it “SEVA” — an attempt to cash in on the “NOVA” sexiness — failed. The place is a broken mirror. It is fractured by water and a failure of city leaderships to create an area mentality. The best they can do is “There is the Peninsula, the Southside, and the inflamed appendix, Suffolk,” and that’s exactly how they behave.

      They built a Regional Jail where shoplifters go to die.

  4. I think JMU deserves more respect than it gets too. I’m starting to meet a number of very sharp tech entrepreneurs with JMU degrees. I think JMU could run the same CS / STEM play that the University of Maryland successfully ran over the last 20 years.

  5. A minor objection. Rodney deserved respect, and was.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Dangerfield

    But yes, the shtick does fit ODU, a W&M child.

    • Yes, I can claim my son kinda went to W&M since he got his master’s in engineering at the offshoot….

      • A good school. I took courses there and worked with several adjunct faculty members. ODU is an “adult school” after dark. A lot of military and working adults got degrees there.

        ODU, CNU, and Richard Bland were all children. There are probably others… out of wedlock.

  6. Another barrier to Hampton Roads industrial growth: Constrained natural gas pipeline capacity and limits on well-water extraction from the Potomac Aquifer severely limit the region’s ability to attract large industrial investment.

    • You see that glass as half empty. I see it as half full. Regions built on traditional industrial growth have generally suffered (e.g. Detroit). Tidewater avoided that problem. But where is the technology industry? How can a region build aircraft carriers and (I think) nuclear submarines without spinning off a ton of tech companies?

      As for natural gas … load up the tankers at Cove Point for the short hop down the bay to Tidewater. If it’s economical to ship LNG from Cove Point to Europe how is in uneconomical to ship the same cargo to Norfolk?

      • Clearly, it’s an over engineered glass.

      • Just a visceral reaction, but one of my fear porn, as Steve calls it, is an exploding LNG carrier. On the probability scale it’s pretty damned low, but back in the day, some article explained that an LNG carrier exploding in Hampton Roads would be on scale with the Halifax explosion.

        I’ve always been amazed that the Cove Point nuclear power station is within the blast zone of the LNG facility.

    • The water issue is a good point. The area south of the James River/Bay conflucence does not have a source of surface freshwater, such as the James and Potomac Rivers. (Newport News has reservoirs on the Peninsula, drawing from the Mattaponi, I think. I am not sure about Hampton.) The groundwater draw downs have resulted in subsidence, which contributes to the flooding problem. About 40-45 years ago, there was a huge political fight over building a pipeline to transport water from Lake Gaston in Southside to south Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads won. I assume a significant percentage of the water for Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Portsmouth comes from that pipeline.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Don’t forget Lake Drummond! In the old days of wooden ships and iron men Lake Drummond was the drinking source. The tannin laden water preserved well on long voyages.

      • Hampton and York County buy their water from Newport News who owns almost all of the fresh water sources on the Peninsula. The Chickahominy too, I believe.

        The same used to be true of Norfolk. They used to own all the lakes and fresh water including the Northwest River and Lake Drummond. There was a messy suit between VB and Norfolk.

      • Newport News uses the Chickahominy River, 180 million gallons per day (MGD), Lightfoot Wellfield 1.1 MGD, Lee Hall Wellfield 5.7 MGD, and five reservoirs.

        The Lake Gaston project transfers up to 60 million gallons per day to reservoirs for Virginia Beach and Chesapeake gets 10 MGD of that.

        Norfolk has 8 reservoirs holding 13 billion gallons, uses the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers and 4 deep wells, most likely from the Potomac aquifer.

  7. I have nothing but respect for ODU. My older sister and my younger brother both earned BS degrees in engineering from ODU and the curriculum was every bit as rigorous as that which I experienced at Va. Tech.

    My mother also graduated from ODU, albeit not as an engineer, and several years after her youngest child completed his degree, but she did it!

  8. I posted about STEM degrees yesterday and omitted ODU and I shouldn’t have. I believe ODU also has a higher percentage of Pell Grant eligible students than the other schools.

    The 7 schools listed above can be separated into a couple of buckets. UVA, VT, JMU, and W&M have relatively affluent student bodies. In fact, average incomes are above many private schools. (To put it into perspective, W&M and UVA have higher average family incomes than the University of Richmond, which is sometimes described as a “country club”. JMU and VT are only slightly lower.) As a result, they have a much more manageable financial aid loads. W&M and UVA even redistribute tuition revenue significantly to lower net cost for lower income students. They can do this largely because they have relatively few lower income students.

    ODU, VCU, and GMU are in the other bucket. They have a significantly higher percentage of students that are Pell Grant eligible (lower income) and I believe ODU is the highest. Among these 7 schools, only ODU has a Pell Grant percentage that is in the ballpark of the University of California System schools. So ODU is fighting in some very different trenches compared to the UVA/VT/JMU/W&M bucket. Median family income for ODU students is only about 54% that of W&M and 60% of UVA.

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