If you’re looking to go to college in the rural Mountain State, West Virginia has 44 secondary education institutions. For the most part, these colleges and universities are smaller schools with enrollments between 1,000 and 4,000 students. However, two major universities have enrollments of over 10,000: Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and West Virginia University in Morgantown.
Of the two schools with the largest student bodies, do you know which has a bigger campus? Keep reading to discover the largest college campus in West Virginia, as well as information about student life on the campus.
The Largest College Campus in West Virginia
The largest college campus in West Virginia is West Virginia University (WVU). The main campus, which has a small city setting, is 2,800 acres large. Nestled in the heart of Morgantown, West Virginia, WVU provides students with an exceptional education in an eclectic setting. While it’s the largest campus by acreage in West Virginia, many of WVU’s students aren’t natives of the state.
Over the last five years, top publications and ranking systems have consistently named Morgantown among some of the best. Titles include:
- #1 Small City in America (Bizjournals).
- #9 Best College Town in America (Business Insider).
- Top 10 Great Places to Live: Morgantown (Kiplinger.com).
- Best Sports Cities (Sporting News).
- #1 Place to Live in West Virginia (Money Magazine).
Furthermore, the school itself ranks highly on lists like the U.S. News and World Report:
- Undergraduate Petroleum Engineering Programs (6)
- Undergraduate Nursing Degrees (86)
- Top Public Schools (116)
- Undergraduate Engineering Program (135)
WVU’s campus, history, traditions, and surrounding flora and fauna make for an adventurous and unique four-year degree.
WVU has three large campuses throughout the state of West Virginia, but the Morgantown campus is by far the largest — and the original.
Morgantown’s campus has three different sections. The first, Downtown Campus, features dozens of academic buildings and learning environments. Many of the existing halls date back to the original campus’s founding. Eight of the buildings on Downtown Campus made it onto the National Register of Historic Places — chalking up the significance of education, architecture, and agriculture evident in the University’s buildings. The oldest buildings in Downtown vary in architecture style, from Neoclassical to Collegiate Gothic to Victorian Second Empire. Stewart Hall, an administration building, is built in the Romanesque Revival style and registered on the National Register.
Located about a mile and a half away from the Downtown Campus is the Evansdale Campus. WVU added this campus midway through the twentieth century when it struggled to keep pace with growing enrollment and student demands. Buildings on this campus include:
- The Coliseum.
- The Student Recreation Center.
- The Canady Creative Arts Center.
- The WVU Greenhouse.
- The Evansdale Library.
While it doesn’t have as many options as the Downtown Campus, Evansdale also has residence halls on the campus.
Finally, the Health Sciences Campus holds the university’s main health services buildings, including:
- The Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.
- Ruby Memorial Hospital.
- WVU Children’s Hospital.
- Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.
- The Erma Byrd Biomedical Research Facility.
- Chestnut Ridge Hospital.
Most of the medical buildings on the Health Sciences Campus serve a dual purpose: teaching students and operating as the area’s primary source of care.
With a campus nearly 3,000 acres large, getting around the fractured campus seems difficult without a car. Thankfully, WVU employs an innovative monorail known as the PRT, or a personal rapid transit system, that connects the three campuses. Once they enter a car, students enter their destination. Depending on how busy the PRT is at any given time, the car will dispatch to that location immediately instead of making stops at other locations first.
WVU’s history spans all the way back to 1867, when the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act and the West Virginia Legislature established the Agricultural College of West Virginia. Only a year later, it renamed itself to its current name — West Virginia University — to encompass its mission of enabling residents of the state to pursue higher education. At first, all students had to appear for roll calls and daily chapel times. When the school lifted the mandate, students became much more involved in extracurricular activities. The first fraternity and sorority established themselves in 1890 and 1899, respectively. Similarly, the first football and basketball teams formed in 1891 and 1903.
The twentieth century brought WVU massive growth. The school weathered two World Wars and the Great Depression, pivoting at every challenge and overcoming it by expanding on another facet of the university that was already flourishing. By the turn of the century into the 2000s, the school stood in its own right for football and basketball and enrollment reached 30,000.
Students also have a habit of making their voices heard to influence change on campus. In 2023, financial hardships brought about a proposal that would cut seven percent of the university’s faculty and 32 major programs. Students staged a walkout during the first few weeks of classes and rallied on both the Downtown and Evansdale campuses in opposition. They even wore red to honor the legacy of the Blair Mountain coal miners.
When it comes to traditions, the Mountaineer mascot remains WVU’s most prized symbol of tradition. First appearing at sporting events in 1936, a tradition started several decades later to choose the official mascot every year. They receive:
- A scholarship.
- A tailor-made buckskin suit.
- A period rifle and powder horn.
Once chosen, which usually occurs during the final men’s basketball games held at home, the Mountaineer travels with most of the university’s sports teams. It’s not required, but most male students chosen as the Mountaineer choose to grow a beard. In the mascot’s 90-year history, three female students have been named Mountaineer.
Another tradition for many sports teams and the band of WVU is singing the song Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver. The artist even performed the song in 1980 to dedicate the WVU football field, Mountaineer Field. It’s such a time-honored and famous tradition on campus that Sports Illustrated named it among one of the must-see college traditions in America.
The extracurricular life on WVU’s campus remains both vibrant and diverse. With over 450 different organizations to get involved with, students are never at a loss for something to do. The organizations, classified into 20 unique departments, focus on individual-centered learning and experiences to ensure each student can make the most of their time. Some of the sections of student life include:
- Arts and entertainment, like dancing, singing, and other performing arts groups.
- Identity-based organizations promote educational, cultural, and social support for minority groups.
- Fraternities and sororities.
- Community engagement opportunities to volunteer and make a difference in the region.
- Recreation, including intramural and club sports.
Students may live off-campus during their freshman year if they are married. If they are single, first-year students and transfer students with less than 24 credits must stay in a residence hall. The school has many different types of halls, from traditional dorms to high-rise apartments in the Downtown.
Downtown Campus also has over 30 different places to eat, with plans to add more and a surrounding area filled with specialty restaurants.
Flora and Fauna
On campus, one of the most stunning arrays of West Virginia trees and shrubs is the Core Arboretum. It’s a 91-acre arboretum owned by the school that holds different events throughout the year. It’s also open to the public year-round for free. Some of the events held at the Core Arboretum include:
- Month Night, where experts set up sheets and lights to attract moths and identify them for attendees.
- Public demonstrations, like how to safely capture and band birds.
- Flower Festival, which celebrates the native species of wildflowers in the area.
- Nature walks, which include both bird and plant focus and feature educational lectures in the Arboretum.
Off-campus, Morgantown’s flora and fauna remain similar to the rest of West Virginia. The hardwood forests include predominant species of maples, birches, and the American beech. When it comes to animals, the creatures run the gamut. Red foxes, squirrels, white-tailed deer, black bears, various species of birds, and rabbits roam the more remote parts of WVU’s campus, leaving Downtown alone for the most part. In 2023, the WVU Organic Research Farm had a broken lock on a pasture gate, resulting in a few more creatures — including 93 sheep and a donkey named Broccoli — meandering campus.
Let’s Hear it for the Mountaineers!
Students from across the nation come to WVU for its uniquely urban campus, surrounded by lush greenery, and the vibrant student life. Education, athletics, tradition, and nature combine to create West Virginia’s largest college campus and biggest university by student enrollment.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.