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inRoads Research: Education Highlights

More Students Are Coming to Hampton Roads

Without a question, a large presence of students impacts regional economic composition with more than $400 billion in federal and state funding guided by population based census counts. Additionally, higher student counts may expand an area’s influence in state legislature. For this reason, the U.S. Census Bureau prescribes how students should be counted, declaring since 1950 that students should be counted at their “usual residence”. The American Community Survey (ACS), from which population counts are derived, defines current residence more specifically as the place where one has lived most of the time in the last two months. So, despite factors such as who claims the student on income taxes or where the student is registered to vote, a student’s address is most often and correctly captured at the student’s college for population counts. As such, our regional population totals are inclusive of thousands of migrating students.


Many factors could be weighted when considering the economic effect that incoming students have on the region, such as the evolution of online classes and whether a student is on-campus or commutes to receive classes; however, the fact remains that more out-of-region students are looking to Hampton Roads’ higher learning institutes for their education. Out-of-region enrollment has steadily increased over the last five years, becoming a larger percent of total enrollment. More enrollment in regional institutions from out-of-region students means more money flowing into the local economy as opposed to simply circulating already present funds. This also means a greater opportunity to capture more students for tomorrow’s workforce for the benefit of local economic growth.

More than 97,200 students are enrolled in Hampton Roads' twelve major institutes for the 2016-2017 Fall school year. The original residence of over 55,000 students is spread across Hampton Roads’ sixteen Virginia localities. The remaining percent of enrolled students came from outside of the region, with the top contributing out-of-region localities being Fairfax, Chesterfield, Prince Williams, Loudoun, and Henrico Counties. Even though total enrollment has decreased year-over-year across all major institutions for the last five years, out-of-region student enrollment has shown an opposing upswing. Out-of-region student enrollment increased by 9.2% in contrast to a decline in total enrollment by -7%.

Considering enrollment unweighted by locally-focused community colleges, current enrollment in traditional four-year colleges is made up of 62.2% of students from outside of the region. Therefore, we see how each Hampton Roads' higher learning institute is a vital point of attraction and component of in-migration. Rightfully so, because of the quality schools our region offers. A few reasons why our regional colleges are so attractive are highlighted below:

  • Christopher Newport University was named one of the top five medium-sized public colleges in the South based on current graduation rates, student debt levels, job placement rates and satisfaction of current graduates.
  • William & Mary ranked third for best public business schools by the Princeton Review (2016).
  • Eastern Virginia Medical School is a global leader in infertility treatment and home of first IVF birth in the United States.
  • Hampton University was highlighted in the top three Historically Black Colleges and Universities by Washington Monthly 2016 College Rankings.
  • Norfolk State University’s computer science degree program ranked in SR Education Group’s list of most affordable online degree programs.
  • Old Dominion University is one of the largest higher learning institutions in the tristate area, with more than 24,000 students, 427+ academic paths, and expansive facilities that include the ODU Applied Research Center, the Innovation Research Park, and the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics.
  • Regent University is ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report as having the number one online bachelor’s program and one of the top five online MBA programs in Virginia
  • Virginia Wesleyan University was honored as a 2016-2017 College of Distinction, chosen for excellence in student-focused higher education and exemplary commitment to engaged students, great teaching, vibrant community and successful outcomes.


When considering traditional four-year institutes alone, out-of-region student enrollment increased by 11.7% over the past five years, which is interesting because enrollment and employment tend to move inversely. Improving overall employment tends to push enrollments down, because during times of recession displaced workers usually go back to school to gain new marketable skills, and recovering employment reflects their return to the workforce. Since 2012, in-region enrollments of four-year institutes have declined by -10.7%, (and -21.8% for two-year colleges), which seems in contrast to the region’s prolonged period of slow job recovery. As a result, this may not necessarily reflect a worker-retraining/workforce-return cycle, but more so lends to an explanation of the increase in the relative share of millennial population composition.

More and more students are finding a reason to come to Hampton Roads. How will we respond? In the face of extended periods of sub-par employment growth, the in-flux of students is a key to the ignition of Hampton Roads’ advancement. The question remains as to what we will offer them to set up a life here and continue contributing to the local economy once their education is complete. 

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