Mid-Atlantic Road Trip: Winston-Salem State University

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You're about to spend four years of your life on a college campus; you need to make sure it feels right. So hit the road—we did! We took three typical road trips: East Coast, West Coast, and in between. By the way, college visits don't have to mean hours on the interstate. Use our Directory to locate schools near you and walk through the gates. You may find what you're looking for.

Going to a state school close to home makes sense for many students, and with 16 public colleges and universities, North Carolina has a strong state system. We looked at three possibilities: a historically black university, the state's flagship school, and a liberal arts college. Then, to sample what neighboring states had to offer, we drove north to Blacksburg, Va.

Shiny new brick-and-aluminum buildings dominate the view of campus from the U.S. 52 freeway through downtown, and while visiting students usually arrive with an interest in historically black colleges and universities, this campus is focused on the future as it capitalizes on its expertise in the health sciences. Since 2000, WSSU has built and renovated science buildings and expanded its faculty to teach in them. In the same period, the student population has doubled.

In response to a demand for lab technicians, WSSU has developed a major in clinical lab science. And nursing is the most popular major on campus: First-years can study by videoconference with nursing students from other countries—this year from Costa Rica—and they quickly get to hone their skills off campus. "As soon as they learn to take a blood pressure, they're out there doing screening," says Peggy Valentine, dean of the health school.

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Although most of the school's freshmen and sophomores are African-American, the upper division is more diverse: 52 percent black, 45 percent white, and the rest Hispanic and Asian. As many as 11 percent of WSSU's traditional nursing students are male (men make up 6 percent of the U.S. nursing workforce).

One key attraction for in-state students: North Carolina provides full scholarships for many honors students in the life sciences, physical sciences, math, and computer science. Three years ago, WSSU started a biotechnology program for undergrads; in a lab building once used by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., students collaborate with a group from Wake Forest University that shares the space (many WSSU honors graduates are now in medical school or grad school at Wake Forest, also located in Winston-Salem).

WSSU students mention the personal touch they receive from faculty and staff members. "They're always so giving, and I love that," says Jackie Jackson, a senior honors student in biology. Another '08 class member, Theodis Chunn of Salisbury, N.C., says that when he was applying to college, it was a visit to the WSSU campus that made up his mind: "The faculty and students greeted me. Even though Mom was there, it was all about me."

Housing for a fast-growing population was a challenge for the university; treating students with a personal touch was harder still. The WSSU Foundation issued bonds, leased buildings back to the state, and repaid the debt with proceeds from the leases. Hundreds of students live in roomy spaces with plenty of bathrooms and extras such as fitness equipment and kitchens. A majority live in housing built within the past 10 years.

All the change is unnerving some students. WSSU wants to boost retention and graduation rates; tighter admission standards are part of the deal. Whether that will disqualify some African-American students, as some fear, remains to be seen.

More About Winston-Salem State University

Plus factor: Nearly 95% of nursing degree holders pass licensing test.

Undergrad enrollment, fall '07: 5,458
Est. annual cost, '07-'08 (tuition, fees, room and board): in state: $8,970; out of state: $17,610  

Mid-Atlantic Road Trip

  • Winston-Salem State University
  • UNC-Chapel Hill
  • UNC-Asheville
  • Virginia Tech
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