Achieving Scale Through Moderate Growth
Scale offers important advantages, including: the ability to offer academic programs that are strong across all three mission areas of learning, discovery, and engagement; increased operational efficiency, generating resources that can be invested in affordability and program quality; and the opportunity for more students to earn Virginia Tech degrees, an important element of our land-grant mission and a response for the steadily growing interest in Virginia Tech among prospective students.
Land-grant research institutions like Virginia Tech have the most comprehensive missions of any class of university. As such, these institutions tend to be larger than universities with more limited scope. Countering these advantages is the desire to preserve the strong sense of community and small-campus feel of Virginia Tech.
What is the right size for Virginia Tech? All of the dozen land-grant institutions ranked ahead of Virginia Tech are bigger than Virginia Tech. Their undergraduate populations range from 27,000 to 49,000, with a median of 34,000. While there is no direct causal relationship between institutional quality and an undergraduate enrollment of about 30,000 or more, the advantages of scale outlined above strongly support the hypothesis that the benefits of scale become apparent for land-grant research universities at an undergraduate enrollment of about 30,000.
When we started to plan for growth back in 2014, Virginia Tech had about 25,000 undergraduates. Our current plan takes us to 30,000 by 2023. Growth stresses some systems and allows others to approach peak efficiency. This plan for growth allows us to provide the breadth of high-quality undergraduate opportunities; to sustain programs critical to the undergraduate experience while continuing to keep access and affordability for Virginia residents a priority. In that light, we must continue to adjust our rate of growth to match the growth of critical infrastructure, available faculty and staff effort, and financial resources. And, we must preserve the strong campus community that strives to ensure that every student feels engaged and supported.