Demand leads to selectivity for Tech education
Virginia Tech's Class of 2004 is now settling into the collegiate life. Like previous classes, they are increasingly well prepared for academic life. With an average GPA of 3.6 and SAT of 1177, these students are raising the bar for admission. With increasing numbers of these brightest students seeking a Tech education, the university is also feeling the increasing frustration of alumni, parents, and disappointed would-be Hokies. What's going on in Blacksburg?

The university received a record number of applications this year: 18,400, a 15-percent increase over last year. The simple explanation--Tech's run at the national football championship earlier this year--though intriguing, hardly explains the current phenomenon. Indeed, most high school seniors have already made up their minds and submitted applications to their school of choice prior to bowl game match-ups. But there are other more easily explainable factors.

The pressure for admission has been long predicted. The so-called baby boom echo, the sons and daughters of the post -World War II babies, are now knocking on the doors of academe. In Virginia, high school enrollment continues to skyrocket. There were about 69,000 high school seniors in Virginia in 1999. But there were 80,000 sophomores and 85,000 eighth graders. Those students will soon be knocking on the doors of Virginia's colleges and universities. Moreover, Virginia's economic miracle swells our population slightly faster than the national average.

The university's traditionally strong programs--engineering, science, and technology--are in high demand. The information age economy must be fed with qualified workers. Tech graduates, particularly, have the skills and attitudes employers desire. Business leaders often tell me how valued Tech grads are to their operations.

Word is getting out: Tech is no longer Virginia's best kept secret. Virginia Tech is now recognized among young people for excellence and more often their first-choice school. We expect that enrollment demand will continue to increase in coming years.

In Virginia, there is one more reason for the long faces of disappointment and rejection--and it is neither as straightforward nor as gratifying as those noted above. The Commonwealth of Virginia has not been adding collegiate seats as fast as its high schools.

At Virginia Tech, we knew that additional funds were not forthcoming. So earlier this decade we accepted about 2,000 more Virginians without any additional support from the state. Other state institutions ramped up too. In 1999, there were 8,400 more Virginians in state public colleges than in 1995. Today, Virginia Tech educates almost one in five of all Virginia undergraduates at state-supported colleges and universities. But it will be impossible for us to accept additional students without commensurate increases in funding.

With the recognition of this impending boom in demand and with the record surpluses now flowing from the state treasuries, we are hopeful that higher education will again become a top priority for the Commonwealth of Virginia. In the meantime, we all recognize that admissions will be increasingly selective. For that hopeful Hokie in your family or neighborhood, ensure that they study and focus on school.