Good neighbors

JMU, EMU, Bridgewater, BRCC enjoy a strong working relationship

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by Lilly Johns and Jane McConville

 
goodneighbors-lead
Students enjoy the perks and amenities of JMU’s close proximity to downtown Harrisonburg. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE ADERTON (’19)

SUMMARY: Harrisonburg and the surrounding Shenandoah Valley are home not only to beautiful scenery but a rich, educational environment. Together, the presidents of each college in the region work to increase applications, strengthen relationships, as well make higher education more accessible for all.


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Nicknamed the Friendly City, Harrisonburg and the surrounding area is home to no less than four institutions of higher learning — James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University, Bridgewater College and Blue Ridge Community College — all of which share resources and work together to create opportunities in the central Shenandoah Valley. 

The schools’ origins span from 1880 (Bridgewater) to 1917 (EMU) to 1966 (BRCC), with JMU’s story beginning in 1908. Bridgewater and EMU are private institutions, while JMU is a public university. As a community college, BRCC is designed to meet the educational needs of local residents. All four schools have grown into reputable places for education, research and job training.

Bridgewater, EMU and JMU attempt to instill in their students a greater worldview in the hopes that they will go on to make an impact on their communities and the world.

An excerpt from Bridgewater’s mission statement reads, “We prepare graduates to live and work in community with others, to thrive as educated citizens, ethical and selfless leaders, and to be active participants in a global society where they serve with respect for the dignity and worth of every person.”

Similarly, EMU’s mission is to prepare students to “serve and lead in a global context,” while JMU wants its graduates to be “educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives.”

Although one may presume that the schools’ close proximity means they compete with one another for students, in fact, they view each other as allies.

Aerial view of the Shenandoah Valley
 Each school shares the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

“Theoretically, if the schools competed for students, we would be competitors, not allies. But that is not the case,” said David Bushman, Bridgewater’s president. “All three of us are very different, and we all recruit different students for different reasons. So our relationship has all the benefits of being close.”

The schools’ presidents work together to create and advance opportunities in the Valley.

“We are always actively looking for ways to strengthen existing partnerships and to build new ones,” said David Kirkpatrick, interim chief of staff for JMU President Jonathan R. Alger, citing a recent event with the local chamber of commerce that featured higher education. “The presidents discussed issues of mutual concern and exciting ways that they are all investing in our community.”

EMU President Susan Huxman said the proximity of the schools creates a special relationship. “I am thankful for the friendship and the wisdom that the other college presidents in the area provide to me. While we compete for students in some areas, for the most part, the presence of these vibrant institutions is a win for all.”

Aerial view of downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia
Downtown Harrisonburg is rich with historical, cultural and recreational opportunities.

JMU and BRCC have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship that includes student transfer agreements, degree completion and workforce development. In recent years, the two schools have partnered to meet the workforce needs of local pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck. BRCC President John Downey called the partnership “a model in demonstrating how educational offerings can be aligned with the workforce needs of industry.”

Kirkpatrick said students are fortunate to have options in the region for their career development and college experience. “The numerous institutions are all quite distinct in what they offer to students,” he said.

All four schools are incredibly lucky to call the Valley home. The region packs a punch when it comes to historical, cultural and recreational opportunities.

“That’s a big draw for all of us,” Huxman said. “The Friendly City caters to our students, and as institutions of higher education, we all provide positive educational, cultural and economic impacts for the city, county and region.”

With continuing relationships among the schools and the growth of the local community, the future is bright for the Valley and its residents.

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Published: Friday, January 26, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, January 25, 2024

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