- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia Commonwealth University became the largest college in the state last fall with an enrollment of 30,381 students, and it expects to reach about 35,000, school President Eugene P. Trani said.

Mr. Trani said 35,000 is not a rigid enrollment cap but is the best projection school planners can make for the 140-acre urban campus.

In December, the school will increase its capacity by 2,000 students with a campus expansion that will include a new business school, an addition to the engineering school and the relocation of the graduate-advertising program.

Improved student retention also is helping the school grow, Mr. Trani said. This year, a record 93.5 percent of freshmen returned for the second semester. Eighty-one percent of them were in good academic standing, increasing the prospects that they will remain in college.

The school also has established programs to improve freshman retention and grades.

Jon Steingass, dean of the University College, said the efforts have included housing students who shared similar interests on the same floor of dormitories. The school also increased advising sessions to help freshmen adjust to college life and avoid academic problems.

In addition to planning for growth, the school wants more autonomy.

If Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, approves, the school will negotiate a management agreement with Cabinet secretaries and become a “Level 3” institution as part of the restructuring of Virginia’s higher-education system.

Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary already are Level 3. Depending on terms of the agreement, such institutions can receive greater authority over construction projects, leases, information technology, procurement, human resources and finance and accounting.

Details of the agreement would require General Assembly approval.

Mr. Trani said school officials are not unhappy with state oversight.

“We just want as much flexibility as we can get,” he said.

One of the original aims of the institutions seeking Level 3 status was broad authority to set tuition and other fees. Mr. Trani said if the school receives Level 3 management authority, it has no plans to sharply raise tuition or fees.

The university now charges $5,819 a year for full-time, in-state undergraduate students — $434 more than the previous year.

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