George Mason University is expanding its Prince William County science and technology campus near Manassas, with two projects planned in the coming years, as well as a study of placing the region’s first medical school there.
With a growing demand for STEM and information technology degrees, enrollment at the campus is expected to more than double by 2026, and GMU is responding with plans to expand one building and construct another, increasing its total space by about 60 percent. The expansions will allow students to complete the entirety of their undergraduate degrees on the Prince William campus.
At the same time, the university’s study of a potential medical school could drive additional growth and help address a projected nationwide shortage of physicians, said William Hazel, the university’s senior adviser for innovation and community engagement. Results of that study could be presented to the university’s board of visitors as soon as October.
Across its campuses in Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and South Korea, the university had 26,000 undergraduate students and 12,000 graduate students enrolled in 2018-19, Hazel said.
The university is the largest public research university in Virginia, and officials are eyeing continued growth to more than 46,000 students by 2026. University officials are looking especially to the Prince William campus and the Arlington campus for future growth, Hazel said.
“To increase enrollment, you need a full-service campus where kids can come there and get their degree at the Prince William campus in certain fields,” Hazel said. “To do that requires space, and the good news is that space is coming.”
The Prince William campus is slated to have 3,215 undergraduate students and 522 graduate students in 2020. By 2026, university officials project student enrollment there to nearly double to 5,985 undergraduate students and 1,369 graduate students.
By 2025, the expansions at the Prince William campus mean students will be able to complete undergraduate degrees there, instead of attending multiple campuses, Hazel said.
The 134-acre campus is slated to increase from 500,000 square feet of space to 800,000 square feet by 2025. The university’s Fairfax campus has 5 million square feet and its Arlington graduate campus has about 500,000 square feet.
Undergraduate programs at the Prince William campus include bioengineering, biology, chemistry, forensic science, IT/computer science, mechanical engineering, computer game design, medical lab science, kinesiology and neuroscience.
University officials expect to complete a 100,000-square-foot expansion of the largest building in Prince William by summer 2023. The former Bull Run Hall, recently renamed Katherine Johnson Hall, will have additional classrooms and specialized laboratories. The university changed the building’s name in June to recognize former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose career was highlighted in the movie “Hidden Figures.”
That expansion is currently in the design phase.
Also at the Prince William campus, officials are planning a 200,000-square-foot addition, currently called Academic VIII, estimated to be completed by fall 2025. That project will add classrooms, specialized laboratories and limited research facilities.
The campus recently opened its Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research, with 75,000 square feet. The university plans to complete a 2,785-square-foot specialized laboratory at the institute by summer 2020. Hazel said this project is part of modernizing the institute’s labs.
The Prince William campus is adjacent to the proposed 150-acre mixed-use Innovation Town Center. The campus and town center are part of Innovation Park, a 1,500-acre corporate research park that also includes the FBI’s Northern Virginia Resident Agency and Virginia’s State Forensics Lab.
Although details are not finalized for the private development, the town center could create a new entrance to the GMU campus and provide residences and businesses that would be a good fit for students, faculty and staff, Hazel said.
DOCTORS ARE IN
With expansions set for technology programs, a potential medical school would offer an additional path for growth.
In 2018-19, 91,391 students were enrolled in medical schools in the country, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. However, the United States will see a shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by 2030. The association says the shortage is due to population growth, an aging population and the expected retirement of older doctors.
Prince William recently contributed $50,000 toward the medical school feasibility study. The Claude Moore Foundation has contributed $200,000, and the university will pay for the rest of the study’s cost. Hazel said he couldn’t disclose the total estimated cost of the study, due to an ongoing contract.
The study will outline how much funding the university will need to start a medical school and will outline clinical partners that would support the medical school, Hazel said.
The university could have a medical school accredited by the State Council of Higher Education by 2021 at the earliest.
A medical school could attract other health-related businesses to the area, Hazel noted.
Prince William’s economic development department will also help the university complete its study by providing strategic plans and industry analyses and identifying industries that could be aligned with the medical school.
Hazel said if the university decides to move forward with a medical school at the Prince William campus, the site would have ample room. “If it goes well and it grows, we will look for additional space.”
Currently, pre-med classes are among the offerings at the Prince William campus. The campus also offers a nine-month advanced biomedical sciences certification through the George Squared program, designed for people who have a bachelor’s degree and are interested in health-related careers.
The university also offers a certificate for military members who have earned a bachelor’s degree, Hazel said. Both certificate programs aim to prepare people for medical school or other health-related careers.
A medical school would be a great addition to the university, which currently has its Schar School of Policy and Government in Arlington, Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, and a business school in Fairfax, Hazel said.
“If we’re bringing a world-class university to Northern Virginia, which leadership over the years has done, this is a natural next step.”