Emory & Henry College. Photo courtesy of the school.

Emory & Henry College will officially switch from being a college to a university starting in the fall of 2024, E&H leaders announced Monday.

The move to a “private regional comprehensive university” was part of the new 2023-2026 strategic plan “Elevate in Excellence,” which was approved by the board of trustees at its meeting Saturday, according to a news release issued Monday.

“This transition is a huge milestone for Emory & Henry and all that it has accomplished for almost two centuries with its visionary leaders, talented faculty and staff, and a purpose to support the region and world with its resilient and well-rounded graduates,” said Michael Puglisi, provost and executive vice president for the college.

The 186-year-old liberal arts school is just off Interstate 81’s Exit 26 in rural Washington County. Its current enrollment is 1,358 undergraduate and graduate students.

Several reasons were given for the change, including the addition over the last decade of new master’s and doctoral programs in health sciences, education and business, to its liberal arts bachelor’s degree offerings.

Carnegie Classification, a framework for classifying colleges and universities in the U.S., defines comprehensive universities as those offering degrees at the master’s level and a few at the doctoral level like E&H, the news release says.

It also notes that E&H was categorized in the U.S. News & World Report rankings in the Best Regional Universities (South) and ranked No. 20 among peers including Rollins College, The Citadel, Berry College, Stetson University, Christopher Newport University, Appalachian State University and others.

In addition to its main campus in Emory, E&H has expanded to Marion, which is home to the School of Health Sciences campus, and to Bristol, home to the Intermont Emory & Henry Equestrian program.

The college has also been in the middle of a growth spurt. Last year, E&H announced a number of new projects, including an equestrian center, a sports complex and a housing unit, which is needed due to the record number of students. It is expected to begin housing students this August.

The college also renovated Carriger Hall for the new College of Business and for athletics, was accepted as a provisional member of Division II by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and joined the South Atlantic Conference for the 2022-23 academic year.

Several other colleges in the region have made the transition to university status, including King University in Bristol, Tennessee, which made the change in 2013.

The University of Lynchburg officially became a university on July 1, 2018, after the trustees voted on the change in February 2017.

Michael Jones, the university’s vice president of enrollment, marketing and communications, said Monday that the move was a “logical next step” in that the school had been offering master’s degrees since the 1960s and had been offering a number of doctoral degrees for the past dozen or so years.

“I think the name change has definitely been helpful to the institution because university status appeals to a broader audience, including prospective international students,” Jones wrote in an email. “A key part of our successful name change was a rebranding effort that involved extensive marketing research. This is paying off now, as we are experiencing enrollment growth, despite increased competition and demographic shifts.”

At Emory & Henry, Puglisi led a steering committee composed of faculty, staff, students, alumni and board members to contribute to the strategic plan, which also outlines five areas of focused growth over the next three years, according to the news release:

Expand academic offerings to be responsive to the expectations of students and to respond to challenges that threaten higher education.

Engage students: E&H will support additional investments in student success, engagement, athletics, diversity and inclusion, and campus safety.

Support infrastructure to support growth: The plan calls for strengthening and sustaining the school’s workforce, building and maintaining adequate and attractive facilities, and developing and expanding programs, services and community partnerships.

Lead in the community: The plan calls for E&H to lead in regional economic and workforce development, enhance academic and non-academic programs to serve the community and  promote enhanced health care and healthy living.

Market a distinct value proposition: E&H will refresh its brand.

E&H President John Wells said the new strategic plan recognizes the evolution of E&H to its current role as a university, reflected by its multiple campuses, more than 90 academic majors, nine master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The school remains rooted in the liberal arts, he said, while broadening its appeal to more students and expanding its role as an economic driver in the region.

The graduating class of 2025 will be the first to have Emory & Henry University on its diplomas. 

Susan Cameron is a reporter for Cardinal News. She has been a newspaper journalist in Southwest Virginia...