News & Politics

Move Over, UVa!

Virginia and Maryland Are Battling to Decide Who's the Best. One's Been the Top Dog, the Other's a Scrappy Challenger. We Pick Which Has the Prettiest Campus, the Best Sports Teams, the Top Academics, and More.

The University of Virginia and the University of Maryland are the flagship schools of their states. They are sources of pride for residents and alumni, and engines for their state's economies. If they were members of a country club, Virginia would be old money and Maryland an upstart.

Virginia has such a rich academic tradition that many consider it a "public Ivy." It ranks 21st among national universities in the latest U.S. News college guide, tied with the University of California at Berkeley as the nation's top public institution. No other university can boast that its governing board once included three former presidents–James Madison, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson, who founded the school in 1819.

Though larger than most private universities, with an undergraduate enrollment of 12,900, Virginia has the ambience of a private institution. "We still have that Princeton feeling," says provost Gene Block.

The University of Maryland at College Park has a less distinguished history. Chartered in 1856 as Maryland Agricultural College, it went bankrupt during the Civil War, then reopened in 1867. As recently as the 1970s, Maryland followed virtually an open-admissions policy and had "a reputation as a degree factory," says William Kirwan, president of the College Park campus from 1988 to 1998 and now chancellor of the state's university system. College Park was the kind of place that "you could get into if you had a pulse," says history professor Ira Berlin.

But in the last ten years, Maryland has toughened its standards, attracted top students, and climbed the academic food chain. Five years ago, the school accepted six of every ten students who applied; today it rejects six of every ten.

In the U.S. News rankings, Maryland stands 53rd among national universities, though university officials and others–including Virginia's Block–argue it's underrated nationally. "It takes about 20 years to move a university from good to great," says Maryland president C.D. Mote Jr., who came to College Park in 1998 from the University of California at Berkeley. "Maryland has the capacity to make that move, and that's what was attractive to me."

College Park has evolved into a "megaversity," an educational Wal-Mart with 23,000 full-time undergrads and 11 schools that offer undergraduate majors. It now measures itself against some of the country's top public universities–among them the University of Michigan, Berkeley, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Not long ago, talking about Maryland in the same breath as Berkeley and Michigan–let alone Virginia–would have seemed laughable. But no longer. Head to head, Maryland and Virginia are running a much closer race.


The heart of Virginia's campus, the Lawn, is a national treasure. Designated an outstanding achievement in architecture by the American Institute of Architects, it is almost as well known as Harvard's Yard.

But unlike the Yard, which is filled with a collection of mismatched buildings, the Lawn remains almost as Jefferson created it–capped at one end by the Rotunda, a half-scale model of the Roman Pantheon, and flanked by two parallel rows of red-brick buildings, called pavilions. The back rows, behind the Lawn, are called the Range.

Senior faculty reside in the main pavilions, connected by colonnaded walkways and one-story rooms where select seniors live. Classes are still held in some of these buildings, in keeping with Jefferson's desire to have faculty and students live and learn together. "The buildings Jefferson designed are used every day," says Virginia president John T. Casteen III.

Red-brick structures with white pillars dominate at Maryland as they do at Virginia. But the campus hub, McKeldin Mall, lacks the splendor of the Lawn. Many buildings on the sprawling 1,250-acre campus are designed in Colonial Revival style, but some newer structures are best described as "office complex modern."

On any given day more than 40,000 students, employees, and visitors come to the university. The Maryland campus has the feel of a small city, with construction projects and traffic jams. It's not unusual to see ten cars backed up at a campus stop sign.

Bottom line: Virginia wins. Maryland can't compete with Jefferson's genius.


UVa makes Charlottesville, population 45,000, more diverse and vibrant than the sleepy towns nearby. Yet those who like the buzz of a big city often find it wanting.

Charlottesville's size limits the internships available to students during the academic year, though the university hustles to make use of what's there. Senior Ryan O'Donnell, who worked as a part-time intern in a local courthouse, says, "For the size of the community, a lot of internships are available."

An alumni network spanning the globe works to find students internships for summer and jobs after graduation. Jim McBride, the university's director of career services, says 18,000 alumni pitch in. In a survey of liberal-arts students, 60 percent said that they had secured summer internships through "networking."

But for the career-minded student, it's hard to beat Maryland's location on the doorstep of the nation's capital and next door to the I-270 biotechnology corridor. Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian, the National Institutes of Health, and dozens of law firms and public-policy groups are a hop away by Metro. Linda Gast, former director of College Park's Career Center, says about two-thirds of Maryland undergraduates do at least one career-related internship. Maryland's size, location, and bigger science programs also translate to more opportunities for students to work with professors on research.

College Park's proximity to a big city is a disadvantage when it comes to safety. Pockets of the Route 1 corridor near campus are seen as unsafe.

Although Charlottesville is hardly crime-free, students don't fear it. In fact, Virginia administrators worry that their students are too cavalier about safety.

Bottom line: Edge to Maryland. Its location provides great opportunities, although some students may prefer Charlottesville's small-city feel.


Virginia is seen as a better school than Maryland. Presidents, provosts, and admissions deans surveyed by U.S. News rank Virginia 4.4 in academic reputation on a scale of 5, while Maryland gets a 3.7.

Virginia did not always stand for classroom excellence. "Thirty to 35 years ago this was a sleepy, good-old-boys place," says David Breneman, an expert on American higher education who is dean of Virginia's Curry School of Education. The admission of women in 1970, Breneman says, "transformed Virginia dramatically."

Virginia's good name stems in part from its selectivity and the quality of its students. Getting into Virginia is very hard for those who live outside the Old Dominion. About 30 percent of the almost 9,000 non-Virginians who applied for admission this fall were accepted–a rate comparable to many elite schools. Those accepted averaged 1380 on the SATs.

Out-of-state residents find it easier to get into Maryland. For fall 2003, the school admitted 35 percent of 14,463 out-of-state applicants. Their middle-range SAT score was 1240 to 1360–lower than the average of those accepted at Virginia.

A believer in geographic diversity, Virginia rounds out its enrollment with more out-of-staters than most public institutions. About one-third of its undergraduates come from out-of-state, in contrast to 25 percent at College Park.

Both Virginia and Maryland admitted 53 percent of their in-state applicants. These students averaged 1334 on the SATs at Virginia, while Maryland officials reported their middle-range score at 1210 to 1370.

Virginia's strong reputation also can be discerned from the list of colleges chosen by high-schoolers who were accepted but enrolled elsewhere. The top ten include five in the Ivy League–Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Penn–plus Duke and UNC. The comparable list for Maryland includes just two Ivies–Cornell and Penn–and a mix that includes Michigan, Boston University, UVa, George Washington, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Still, Maryland is a "hot" school. In the past two years, the school's applicant pool has grown from less than 20,000 to more than 25,000. Virginia's applicants have remained at about 15,000.

Maryland owes its popularity in part to its growing athletic prominence, the creation of on-campus communities where students with similar academic interests live together, its academic reputation, and a nationally recognized honors program. It has also shrunk its full-time undergraduate student body by about 20 percent–a move that has allowed it to be more choosy in admissions.

The university has made strategic use of merit scholarships–money given without regard to need. The grants, which range from several thousand dollars to a full ride, go to roughly 20 percent of freshmen. "It provides an incentive and shows bright students that we recognize their achievements," says admissions director Barbara Gill. By contrast, Virginia offers merit scholarships to only about 3 percent of its students.

Top high-school seniors are noticing the changes at Maryland. Years ago, Drew Plisco, now a senior in the university's honors program, might not have thought twice about Maryland. Plisco averaged A's at an Atlanta private school and posted 1500 on the SATs. He chose College Park over Charlottesville in part because of its size and the career-related opportunities in the DC area.

Bottom line: Decided edge to Virginia, though Maryland is gaining.


Students are far more likely to graduate from Virginia than Maryland. Charlottesville has a six-year graduation rate of 92 percent (six years is the standard measure in higher education) as compared with College Park's 69 percent.

The Maryland number is climbing. Administrators hope that as they continue to attract stronger students and reduce the number of part-time commuters, the rate will rise to the mid-70s or higher.

Mote, who complains that the university has been too tolerant of students who "hang around" taking less than full course loads, describes the graduation rate as the school's "single greatest weakness." To improve retention, he has made advising and mentoring students a top priority for the faculty: "I won't approve a promotion unless I see that a faculty member has been involved in mentorship."

Bottom line: Big edge to Virginia.


College Park excels in science and engineering. It joins such schools as MIT, Princeton, and Cornell as one of only ten universities to make U.S. News's top-20 rankings in four hard sciences: physics (13th), engineering (16th), computer science (12th), and mathematics (16th).

College Park's proximity to NIH, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an asset in attracting top faculty and winning federal grants. "We are the only major public university surrounded by all the national labs," says Stephen Halperin, dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

University researchers are engaged in several "gee whiz" federally supported science projects. "Deep Impact" calls for firing a 770-pound copper projectile from a spacecraft into a comet 85 million miles from Earth. The projectile will gouge a deep crater, and a "flyby" spacecraft will do a spectrographic analysis of the comet's composition. Undergraduates assist on such projects. "They get to have a front-row seat," Halperin says.

Virginia did not break U.S. News's top 20 in any of the sciences, although its engineering program is well regarded. This relative weakness means it brings in less research money. College Park got $352 million in research support last year, while Virginia generated $232 million, 60 percent of that for its medical center.

Bottom line: Big edge to Maryland.


The humanities are Virginia's strength. The college ranked in U.S. News's top 20 in English (11th) and history (15th), and its undergraduate architecture program is considered among the nation's best.

Faculty stars include poet Rita Dove, novelist Ann Beattie, literary critic Mark Edmunson, and Southern historian Ed Ayers, who doubles as dean of arts and sciences. Ayers has played a central role in bringing technology and tradition together in the Virginia Center for Digital History, where historical documents from the Jamestown settlement, the Civil War, the civil-rights movement, and more are digitized.

Emblematic of Virginia's focus on the humanities are the special collections in its library. In addition to historical documents such as the papers of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, it houses what university librarian Karin Wittenborg describes as "the best American-literature collection in the world." Among the treasures are the manuscripts of The Grapes of Wrath and The Red Badge of Courage and poems that Walt Whitman wrote on scraps of paper and later published in Leaves of Grass. The collection, estimated to be worth more than $250 million, soon will be housed in a new campus library.

James Harris, Maryland's dean of arts and humanities, admits that his institution is "playing catch-up" with Virginia. But he says that "the rate of change at Maryland has been fantastic." While College Park does not rank in the top echelon in any of the humanities, its history and linguistics departments are considered strong and have been bolstered by recent hirings.

Bottom line: Big edge to Virginia.


Maryland is stronger in some subjects, Virginia in others. Maryland ranks higher in economics (24th) and sociology (24th), according to U.S. News, and Virginia fares better in psychology (17th). College Park's criminology department is also considered top-flight.

The proximity of the federal government has helped Maryland attract such professors as sociologist Suzanne Bianchi, an expert in the demographics of the American family who had been a high-ranking Census Bureau official. Among the most visible faculty members is Shibley Telhami, a Middle East scholar and frequent television commentator.

Virginia's best-known social scientist is Larry Sabato, the Dr. Phil of American politics. He is a constant presence on news and public-affairs programs.

Bottom line: Edge to Maryland. In addition to its regular faculty, it can call on experts in Washington to teach.


Once upon a time, this would have been no contest. But under Howard Frank, the aggressive dean of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, College Park has leaped forward. Although Virginia has one of the nation's top undergraduate programs, ranked 7th by U.S. News, Maryland is now ranked 17th. It is one of only six business schools–including Northwestern and the University of Chicago–whose faculty rank in the top ten in both teaching and research, according to evaluations by BusinessWeek and Financial Times.

"We are the most technologically advanced business school on Earth," says Frank, with wired data jacks at each seat in the new wing and wireless access throughout the building for the school's almost 2,800 undergraduates.

The 650 students in Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce are also crossing technological frontiers. Like the Smith School, McIntire includes a high-tech trading room that mimics what might be found on Wall Street. There are plans to begin construction of a new facility next year.

While Virginia does not admit students to McIntire until their third year, Maryland admits students to Smith as freshmen. "Maryland has more of a traditional state-university model," says McIntire dean Carl Zeithaml, "while we are a smaller program that emphasizes the liberal-arts tradition as well as the business curriculum."

Bottom line: Edge to Virginia, but Maryland is closing fast.


Maryland and Virginia have very different but well-regarded programs in teacher education–they tied for 21st in the U.S. News graduate rankings.

Maryland offers a four-year undergraduate program that produces about 300 graduates a year. "We want to get the brightest and most talented kids into education," says Maryland dean Edna Szymanski, who is trying to interest more math and science majors in teaching.

Virginia's Curry School of Education has a boutique five-year program from which about 100 students a year emerge with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts (or science) and a master's in teaching. The program is among the most highly regarded in the country. Maryland has talked about implementing a similar program.

Bottom line: A tie. Virginia is more innovative, but Maryland is very solid.


Virginia has no journalism program, while Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism (named after the owner of this magazine) is one of the nation's premier undergraduate programs, with a faculty that includes such luminaries as the Washington Post's David Broder. Unlike many journalism schools, Maryland's does not compromise its mission by housing public relations or mass communications under the same roof.

In the arts Virginia acknowledges that it is behind. "We are in the middle of expansion of the fine and performing arts that is a direct outgrowth of what I saw at Maryland" on campus visits, says Virginia's Casteen. College Park's 2H-year-old Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center brings together performance space for music, theater, and dance. The 318,000-square-foot building houses six auditoriums, 30 classrooms, and 50 rehearsal rooms and is considered the premier college facility of its kind.

Bottom line: Maryland is way ahead.


Many states facing revenue drops have cut higher-education budgets, and Maryland and Virginia are no exception. College Park lost $54 million in state support this year. The state covered 27 percent–or $306 million–of the university's $1.13-billion budget, down from 36 percent.

Chancellor Kirwan worries that continued cuts could sabotage the university's momentum. "College Park's excellence is relatively recent and therefore very fragile," he says.

Virginia's erosion of state support has a long history. Fifteen years ago, Richmond provided 35 percent of the university's budget (not including the medical school). Then the state hit one of its periodic financial crises, and support for the university dropped. This year Virginia will provide only 13 percent–about $116 million–of the university's $896-million budget, and the proportion is expected to shrink further in the next few years. In the current two-year budget cycle, UVa lost $96 million in state support.

"We are going to be the first largely privately financed public university in America," says Robert Sweeney, UVa's senior vice president for development and public affairs.

Casteen takes some comfort in the fact that he is in good company. When Jefferson sought to create the university, the Virginia General Assembly initially refused to provide funds, and Jefferson turned to friends for support. "The state provided money as an afterthought," says Casteen.

Cuts so far have not resulted in significant reductions in classes and programs at either campus. Both have trimmed the number of sections in some introductory courses, and Maryland has closed some dining areas and reduced the hours of its health center. In Charlottesville, doctoral students are teaching some classes where the university couldn't find funds to hire new faculty. Overall, says Ed Ayers, dean of arts and sciences, the university made sure that students didn't bear the brunt of the cuts.

Bottom line: Edge to Maryland, barely. Annapolis had provided more support than Richmond, but that is diminishing.


Cuts in state funding translate to higher tuition and fees. At Virginia, out-of-state students are paying $21,988 this year, an 11-percent hike over last fall. State residents got an ever bigger hike–a 29-percent increase to $5,968 in tuition and fees–but the price is still a bargain. "People pay more to send their kids to preschool than they do to send them to the University of Virginia," says Ayers.

At Maryland, tuition and fees have jumped 21 percent since last fall for all students. In-state students now pay $6,759, while the tab for non-Marylanders is $17,433. And another big hike is in the offing.

To help offset rising tuition, the two schools have increased financial-aid budgets. Using grants, loans, and work-study, Virginia meets 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors and 92 percent of the need of seniors. Officials say that starting next fall the university will meet the demonstrated need of all undergraduates.

Maryland, on average, is able to meet 68 percent of demonstrated need, leaving students and families to make up the difference. Students at College Park who borrow to finance their education graduate owing an average of $15,500; the average debt at Charlottesville is $13,500.

At Maryland about 70 percent of students receive some form of financial assistance, in contrast to 43 percent at Virginia. The difference reflects, in part, Maryland's higher cost for in-state students and its generous use of merit scholarships.

Bottom line: A tie. For out-of-staters, it may boil down to who can offer the best financial package.


With state support dropping, both schools have turned to private donors. Virginia, with an endowment of $1.7 billion, completed a $1.4-billion fundraising campaign three years ago and will soon launch an even more ambitious effort. Vice president Sweeney says that the university is fortunate to have "one of the strongest alumni constituencies in the country–similar to Dartmouth, Princeton, or liberal-arts colleges like Amherst. We are able to raise two times as much per alumnus as the University of California at Berkeley."

Twenty-seven percent of Virginia alumni donate annually, a very high figure for a public institution. The figures for two other top-ranked public institutions, Berkeley and Michigan, are 15 percent.

Unlike Virginia, College Park began cultivating alumni just 15 years ago. Its annual alumni-giving rate is 17 percent, better than that at many public institutions. As Maryland's reputation has improved and its fundraising effort has ramped up, more alumni see the institution as worthy of support. The number of donors has nearly doubled in the past five years to 41,000.

Maryland recently completed a $476-million fundraising drive and will soon launch a more ambitious effort. Brodie Remington, vice president for university relations, says that declining state support means that "the university family" will have to do more to shape the campus's destiny. Still, with an endowment of just $236 million, Maryland is not in the same league as Virginia.

Bottom line: Big edge to Virginia.


Athletics is a big part of life at both universities. "No other activity on campus can draw 50,000 people for an event," says Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow.

Maryland's athletic program has experienced scandal and triumph. But the negatives–basketball star Len Bias's cocaine-related death more than 15 years ago the biggest–have given way to shining moments such as the school's 2002 national championship in basketball. That victory helped generate a surge of applications to College Park.

"Students equate the quality of athletic teams with the quality of the university," says physics professor Sylvester Gates.

Maryland's athletic successes have dwarfed those at Virginia, where the president speaks admiringly of Yow. "When I replaced athletic directors" in 2001, says Casteen, "the model I had in my head was Debbie Yow." Under her leadership since 1994, the once debt-ridden Maryland program now operates with balanced budgets and a renewed focus on the academic performance of athletes. The graduation rate of athletes who entered as freshmen in 1996 is 65 percent–four percentage points behind that of the student body as a whole, although men's basketball has been a laggard. Virginia graduated 78 percent of athletes who entered in 1996, 14 points below the student body graduation rate.

In fall 2002 Maryland opened Comcast Center, a showpiece among college basketball arenas. Virginia used it as a model in developing its own arena, now under construction. "We are using the same lead architect," says Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, who has been on the job two years.

Littlepage has an ambitious ten-year plan. He wants to graduate 100 percent of student athletes who have completed their eligibility and win a dozen national titles and 70 conference championships. Athletics, he says, can bring students of different backgrounds together: "It is a demonstration of diverse young people working toward a common goal. And we do that better than anybody else."

Maryland fans have a reputation for rowdy behavior, especially during Duke basketball games. Virginia students are more staid; many follow a tradition of dressing up for home football games. "When we lose, we still look good," jokes senior O'Donnell.

Bottom line: Edge to Maryland.


As might be expected at a university founded by Jefferson, tradition looms large at UVa. Students and faculty alike complain that the school is culturally conservative. Says professor Michael Smith: "I wish we had a few more pushy New Yorkers among the student body."

An important part of Virginia's tradition is its honor system, created to ease faculty-student tension after an 1840 incident in which a student shot and killed a professor attempting to quiet a disturbance on the Lawn. The system is administered by a committee of students who investigate charges of misconduct and try cases. Anyone found to have violated the honor code is asked to leave the university.

Virginia students take pride in working and playing hard. While studies take priority during the week, many students party on the weekend, which generally begins on Thursday night.

"Students take their studies seriously, but you can't miss how much students enjoy life here," says Ryan O'Donnell.

About 30 percent of Virginia students belong to fraternities and sororities, which are the center of social life.

Maryland students are much less likely to party at a fraternity or sorority. Only 10 percent of undergraduates are members.

Slightly less than 50 percent of undergraduates at both schools live in dorms or university-affiliated housing.

Housing options include "living/learning" communities for students with similar academic interests. These communities are especially common at Maryland, housing more than 40 percent of freshmen.

"It's very helpful to be surrounded by people taking the same classes," says Jonathan Hodax, a sophomore in the College Park Scholars life-sciences program.

College Park officials view the housing as a way to make their university less overwhelming. "These are structures that make the big store small," says historian Berlin. "Otherwise, this could be an easy place for students without a sense of self to get lost."

Bottom line: A tie. Because of its smaller size, Virginia has a better sense of community, but Maryland has creatively combined housing with academic life.


Virginia's devotion to tradition, say students, has produced an environment that is not always hospitable to minorities. The school has grappled with ugly racial incidents, including one recently in which fraternity members wore blackface for Halloween.

"The tradition breeds a weird culture," says junior Huong Huynh. Provost Block says that while Virginia is "tolerant of diversity, it doesn't celebrate diversity."

The proportion of black students at Virginia has dropped from 12 percent to less than 9 percent in recent years, a concern to the administration. "I often hear from minority students that a more urban location would be desirable," says Casteen.

Maryland boasts more diversity, with a higher proportion of African-Americans–12 percent–as well as Hispanics and Asians. Physics professor Gates, who is African-American, says he left MIT for College Park in 1984 partly because of the commitment among university leaders to diversity. "I have never been disappointed in that judgment," he says.

Bottom line: Big edge to Maryland.


Both schools are led by men whom even admirers characterize as less than warm and fuzzy. An administrator at UVa says Casteen is "something of an enigma. He is shy and introverted, and virtually nobody feels that they know him even after 13 years in office. It is difficult to make small talk with him."

A Maryland official says of Mote: "He does not have a lot of airs, but he can be detached and businesslike and formal in his approach."

Like most university presidents, Mote and Casteen spend up to half their time raising money. Both are persuasive one-on-one. "Around here," says Casteen, "fundraising doesn't mean wearing bright green trousers and playing golf. It focuses on program-driven proposals to improve the academic institution."

Casteen is the more battle-tested of the two. He holds three UVa degrees, including a doctorate in English, and has spent much of his career in Charlottesville. He's kept the university on an even keel while dealing with governors who slashed state support and appointed anti-affirmative-action conservatives to the university's Board of Visitors.

Casteen, who served as secretary of education when Democrat Charles Robb was governor in the 1980s, is described by one member of the faculty "as a survivor. He's very smart."

No one questions Mote's smarts. He has three degrees in engineering from Berkeley, where he spent 31 years. Mote moved up the ladder from faculty member to vice chancellor and led a $1.4-billion fundraising effort. When he succeeded Kirwan at College Park in 1998, he got off to a shaky start, in part because he lacked his predecessor's formidable people skills and was viewed as more aloof and abrupt. But he seems to have gained his equilibrium.

Mote is determined to bolster College Park's academic rigor and make it the Berkeley of the East Coast. He stresses excellence across the board, not just in a few subjects. "I came with one goal," he says, "to build a great university. I didn't come to manage; I came to lead." *

Mote stoked controversy this fall when he called UVa "overrated" and declared its U.S. News ranking as the nation's top public university "ridiculous."

Bottom line: Slight edge to Virginia because of Casteen's experience, but don't bet against Mote.


The college-age population is growing in both Maryland and Virginia. UVa is planning to increase enrollment slightly to about 13,000 undergraduates; College Park, which once downsized to become more selective, does not plan to expand.

Virginia hopes to launch or enlarge programs in several areas, including the performing arts, information technology, nanotechnology, and materials engineering. Maryland officials say that any new programs will likely be driven by the demands of the market. "They will be expected to be more self-supporting through tuition than has been the case," says provost Bill Destler.

Maryland has ambitious plans for a research park near the main campus to house the Center for Advanced Study of Language in partnership with the National Security Agency. It also anticipates that a new facility for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will locate in the research park–combining with the university and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in nearby Greenbelt to create what Mote calls "the world's premier weather modeling and prediction center."

Neither institution is banking on increased state support, even if the economy booms. Private gifts, tuition revenue, and federal grants will become increasingly important.

Both universities face changing public attitudes toward higher education. Once seen as benefiting society, it is now seen as chiefly a benefit to the individual. "If you want it, you pay for it" has become the prevailing attitude, says Kirwan.

Leaders in both College Park and Charlottesville recognize the changing environment. How successfully each adapts may determine which institution has the edge over the long run.

Deemed a national treasure, the Lawnat UVa rivals Harvard's Yard–and beats Maryland's McKeldin Mall hands down. Tradition requires Virginia seniors to run naked from one end to the other–often accompanied by police with flashlights.