Public university in Harrisonburg, Virginia, approximately 2.25 hours west-southwest of Washington, DC and 2 hours northwest of Richmond. Straddles Interstate 81 at Exit 245, east of old downtown Harrisonburg and south of the sprawling growth area around the US 33/I-81 interchange. Its athletic teams are known as the Dukes, playing in the Colonial Athletic Association for most sports and Atlantic 10 for football. The university colors are purple and gold.

JMU was created in 1907 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, under the presidency of Julian Ashby Burruss (who, upon his resignation in 1919, went to Virginia Tech; both schools have a Burruss Hall, although JMU's is much less prominent than that in Blacksburg). The "and Industrial" was dropped from the name in 1914, the first bachelor's degrees were awarded in 1916, the name changed again to State Teachers College at Harrisonburg in 1924, and to Madison College in 1938. The final name change took place in 1977, highlighting the university status (although master's degrees had been awarded since 1954).

Nowadays, JMU is a school of nearly 15,000 students. Particular strengths include various health science-related fields, music, and management. JMU's main initiative during the 1990s was the development of the College of Integrated Science and Technology, or ISAT for short; this school includes departments focusing on the application of technology to everyday fields (although some would derisively label it as "engineering lite").

Ranked as a top "regional university" by U.S. News and World Report, JMU fills an important mid-grade niche in Virginia's public university system that Virginia Tech recently vacated. If you're a good student in-state, you can pretty much rely on getting into JMU; as VT has moved toward top-25 public "national university" and top-50 research university status, its admissions standards have gotten much tougher. This has led to much protesting from state legislators, who hear constituents (especially NoVAns) complaining that because their kids can't get into VT, they should institute out-of-state enrollment caps, effectively lowering the admissions standards for in-state students. Of course, what they don't realize is that if the out-of-state numbers were lowered, and their corresponding high tuition payments removed from the bottom line, not only would these academic high-achievers' absence be felt, but the already precarious financial state of low-tax VA higher education would be pushed over the edge.

Some personal observations:

  • As might be expected, University of Virginia students have an obnoxious moniker for JMU: Just Missed UVa.
  • Get a good map if you plan to wander around campus un-escorted. Especially in the old part of the campus (nestled against downtown Harrisonburg and Rockingham Memorial Hospital), the roads bear no resemblance to a grid pattern, and the footpaths aren't exactly easy to follow either. As a freshman in 2001, my sister was quite surprised that she was able to give me a tour one mid-September Saturday night without getting us both lost.
  • These kids are hardcore about marching band, especially their Marching Royal Dukes. The MRDs number about 450 in a 15,000-student school, meaning that just about everybody knows an MRD or 3. After an otherwise terrible football game between JMU and University of Rhode Island, much of the student section (several thousand people) stayed -- on a Saturday night! -- to watch first the URI band's field show, then a repeat performance by the MRDs.

Sources: and personal experience

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