Virginia Tech, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, has been a university on the rise in recent decades. "It is one of...

Share story

WASHINGTON — Virginia Tech, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, has been a university on the rise in recent decades.

“It is one of those schools that has had a really solid regional reputation, but in the last five to seven years has been growing rapidly into a strong national reputation as well,” said Rob Franek, author of the Princeton Review college guide, “The Best 361 Colleges.”

It is the state’s largest university, with 21,937 undergraduate students and 4,433 graduate and professional students, and is one of the nation’s top-ranked schools in engineering and architecture. In the U.S. News & World Report 2007 rankings of public universities, Virginia Tech was 34th. But its engineering school ranked much higher, No. 17. Its industrial-engineering program ranked seventh and its civil-engineering program 11th.

That marks a long rise for a school that opened in 1872 as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, tucked away in the Appalachian foothills. Today, the school’s formal name is the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, but it is popularly known as Virginia Tech.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Though its academic reputation trails those of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, it has become a popular choice for many of the state’s best high-school students because of its strong standing, its low cost and — until Monday — the safe, small-town atmosphere of Blacksburg.

About three-fourths of its undergraduates are from Virginia, and nearly 60 percent are men, reflecting its heritage as a tech school. Nearly all students live on or near campus. Students offered admission for fall 2006 had a grade-point average of 3.8 in high school and an average SAT score of 1,231 of a maximum 2,400.

Its percentage of minority undergraduates has been lower than that in more selective colleges: 7 percent Asian, 4.4 percent African American and 2.3 percent Hispanic.

Virginia Tech

History: Founded in 1872 as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, it later became known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, but it is popularly known as Virginia Tech. It is in Blacksburg, near Roanoke.

Ranking: The school has a reputation for academic excellence. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked it 34th among the nation’s public universities, though some individual engineering programs ranked higher.

Enrollment (main campus): 26,370, undergraduate, graduate and professional students. About 26 percent of the undergraduates are from out of state; they pay nearly $19,000 a year in tuition and fees. In-state undergraduates pay $6,973 in tuition and fees.

The 2,600-acre campus has more than 100 buildings.

The school has a budget of $900.6 million and a $447.4 million endowment.

Famous alumni: Iowa Gov. Chet Culver; Christopher Craft, former director of flight operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston; Homer Hickam, author of “Rocket Boys”; Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback; Charlie Byrd, jazz guitarist.

Seattle Times news services

In addition to its technical programs, the school draws applicants with its well-regarded departments in environmental conservation, biology, communications and agricultural science.

Virginia Tech also is known for its Corps of Cadets, a military training program within the university. Four-year service in the corps was mandatory until 1923. Two-year service was required for men until 1964, when it became voluntary.

The corps admitted its first female cadets in 1973. The Corps of Cadets conducts training exercises on the school’s drill field, in the center of the campus.

Virginia Tech’s location has been part of its appeal. The closest small city, Roanoke, is 38 miles away. Richmond is a three-hour drive, and Washington is about four hours by car. But hikers and backpackers have easy access to the Appalachian Trail, and canoeists and kayakers are fond of the New River.

The campus features buildings constructed with a distinctive native limestone, and Virginia Tech operates its own stone quarries, which it mines for new campus buildings.

The university also has been on the rise in college sports. Its football team became a national power in the past decade, and its teams play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They are known as the Hokies, a word invented by a student in 1896 during a competition to write a new college cheer.

On the football field, the Hokies have played in the postseason for the past 13 years, including in the 2000 national championship game, when they lost to Florida State. Notable football alumni include Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and his younger brother, Marcus Vick.

The Hokies men’s basketball team this year made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.