Getting to Know: James Madison University (VA) Again
I recently attended a virtual briefing about James Madison and decided to gather more information on my own. There are also many photos on my James Madison University Pinterest Page This school has a really nice campus and setting, based on my past visit and the photos that I collected since then. James Madison is not an ultra-selective school, and it was test-optional before the pandemic. Most recently, only a quarter of the Class of 2025 submitted SAT scores. The middle 50 percent ranged from 1150 to 1300. However, as you will read later, James Madison University does quite well at graduating the students it attracts.
James Madison University is about two hours from Washington DC or Richmond.
Yet the school draws quite well from New Jersey. It is the most popular school in the South among Garden State residents who wish to go out of state for college. Out of the 20,000 undergraduates on campus in 2021, over 1,200 came from the Garden State. James Madison University also draws well from Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.
Unlike many top-performing public institutions, James Madison University (JMU) is not a national research university.
It is a regional institution that primarily focuses on undergraduate education. But although JMU is considered a regional university, it is more similar to one well-respected national research university: Miami University of Ohio.
Both schools have student bodies of similar size, a similar selection of majors and even share similar elements of architectural design. They also place more emphasis on teaching undergraduates. James Madison, like Miami, offers more opportunities to undergraduates to do research with faculty than the University of Delaware and other flagship universities, because there are far fewer doctoral students around to do it. Miami has a much longer history; its fans say that it has been a university since Florida, home of the “other Miami” belonged to Spain. It’s quite possible that JMU will become more like the Miami in Ohio over time, with greater financial support for its students.
Virginia has the best selection of public colleges in our country. James Madison University is one of them.
Freshman retention rates have consistently topped 90 percent since 2007, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research. At the same time James Madison has grown it’s freshman class from just under 3,900 to over 4,700 students. The university has graduated no less than 65 percent of each class that entered from 2007 to 2018 within four years. James Madison University’s ability to successfully guide its students towards a degree and direction would be envied by leaders at many flagship state schools with stronger brand recognition.
The undergraduate focus and academic mix really help draw interest to James Madison University.
Incoming freshmen can enter this school in an exploratory status more easily than they might at a larger flagship. Students are admitted to the university, not a college within the school, or a major. Aside from Nursing, which faces limits due to labs and clinical assignments, there has been no need to cap students out of popular majors in areas such as business, Computer Science, Elementary Education, or Integrated Science and Engineering. James Madison takes unique “real world” approaches to business, education, engineering and the sciences.
James Madison University is quite reasonably priced in-state and relative to out-of-state charges at other public universities in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states.
The estimated cost of attendance for this academic year is just under $31,000 for Virginia residents and just under $48,000 for non-residents. That’s over $10,000 less than a New Jersey resident would pay to go to Penn State or U Del. However, the “bread-and-butter student” from New Jersey in the middle of the class is likely to pay far less to go to Rutgers-New Brunswick.
James Madison offers scholarships, though some require a separate application. The Dingledine-Bluestone Scholarship, connected with admission to the Honors College, is one of the most generous, averaging just under $13,000/year, equal to in-state tuition. Only five percent of the freshman in the Class of 2025 received merit-based aid. Half of the Class of 2021 took out student loans. Borrowers, on average, owed just over $30,000.
Residence life works a little differently at James Madison.
JMU has 33 residence halls in five neighborhoods: Bluestone, Hillside, Lake Hills, Skyline and the Village. The Bluestone campus has the oldest halls, the Skyline campus the newest. Given the layout of the campus, with a bridge from the liberal arts, performing arts and business buildings to the science and engineering buildings, it is better for a freshman to live close to where their classes are most likely to be. Distances are too long, for example, for a student to have an English class and a Biology class back-to-back. The layout of the campus has also led the university to have two student centers, Taylor on the Bluestone Campus, Festival on East Campus.
Thirty-five to 40 percent of first-year students choose to live on campus for their second year, which means that others move into off campus apartments or Greek houses. Rents are inexpensive for a college town. It’s quite possible to pay less than $500/month to rent an apartment or share a house near campus. But most off-campus housing is not within walking distance of campus. Students drive, although parking is limited, or they may ride public buses which circulate throughout the campus. However, this gives the campus, with parking at the edges, the resemblance of a commuter school. This is an image that the university administration would probably prefer to avoid.
Harrisonburg is a great place for foodies.
It was the first city in Virginia to be designated as a Culinary District. The downtown offers an eclectic mix of after-hours bars and restaurants on Main Street as well as retail shopping for those who have cars. Outside of the downtown, Harrisonburg has every retail or restaurant chain that can be found in a well-to-do suburban community, again provided a car is available. Harrisonburg is also a nice area for outdoor recreation, given its proximity to the Shenandoah Mountains.
However, most of the social life at James Madison is likely to be campus-based.
This is a very spirit and sports oriented school that has serious traditions. Intramural sports involve over a third of the student body and the sports club offerings are quite ambitious.
Bridgeforth Stadium had the largest football venue (35,000 seats) in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA), which includes, Delaware and Villanova, both of which have been national championships in NCAA Playoff-Subdivision Football along with JMU. Three Dukes have played in a Super Bowl: Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley, wide receiver Gary Clark and kicker Scott Norwood. They’re all opponents that New York Giants fans like me remember fondly. This past season the Dukes moved to the Sun Belt Conference and went 8-3.
James Madison University takes innovative approaches to educating and supporting its students, with many more likely to follow. But unlike most good public universities, it has successfully faced the challenge to maintain a reasonable sticker price for in-state as well as out-of-state students while not being negatively viewed as an “elite” institution. That’s a very impressive achievement for a university that has operated for less than a century. James Madison University narrowly missed my Public Ivy list for this cycle. It could make the list in the very near future.
Report Card: James Madison University (VA)
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention:B+
- Costs: B+
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B
- Comforts: B+
- Connections: A (Pittsburgh area)/B (NYC)/C (elsewhere)
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