JMU & Harrisonburg

Brent Finnegan -- August 21st, 2006

It’s that time of year again — when locals complain that the traffic gets worse, the lines at Wal-Mart are 20 minutes long, and you can’t find an open seat at Panera’s or Barnes & Noble. JMU freshmen will be moving into their dorms Wednesday the 23rd, making townies acutely aware of the university’s presence, and bringing the issue of expansion back into the light again.

Plenty of locals complain about “the giant, ever-expanding blob taking over the town.” From Wikipedia: “JMU has recently experienced a sour relationship with the residents of surrounding Harrisonburg. The University’s rapid expansion has created tension in the city-university relationship with issues such as growth planning.” The student headcount has been steadily growing over the past decade, but it seems that few people raise issue with the students themselves. It’s the geographical expansion of JMU that’s the ongoing topic of debate, and most likely the issue that lost JMU grad Larry Rogers the mayoral re-election.

It’s hard to imagine Harrisonburg without JMU, because students make up such a large portion of the population. Even during the summer, many students stick around for classes, jobs, boyfriends, girlfriends, or simply because there’s more going on here than in their own sleepy hometown. According to city officials, students are counted in the total population census of Harrisonburg, because they live here eight months (or more) out of the year. So when you hear numbers like 40,000 or 44,000, know that over 16,000 of those residents are JMU students.

Considering the current situation Staunton is faced with, and layoffs at Harrisonburg/Rockingham poultry plants in recent years, it seems to be in Harrisonburg’s best interest to diversify its sources of revenue. I was curious about how much money JMU spends locally, and found a study from 2002 that breaks it down. According to the study conducted by JMU, and analyzed by the Virginia Employment Commission, “For every $1 million spent by students, employees and the institution, between 12.5 and 17.4 jobs were created in the community.” And the university puts almost $200 million dollars into the local economy (not including money generated by construction projects).

I’ll do my best to keep these numbers in mind when I’m stuck in traffic Wednesday, but I’m not making any promises.


26 Responses to “JMU & Harrisonburg”

  1. Adam Sharp says:

    Keep your eyes peeled for a Rocktown story this week on townies and the relationship with JMU, I should be in there.

  2. finnegan says:

    Well, la-dee-da, Adam.

    I was in AFP today.

    Did Martin Cizmar do it?

  3. Adam Sharp says:

    No, not Martin, a new reporter named Amber.

  4. finnegan says:

    I read the article in Rocktown today. Adam, your face is trying to take over page 1.

    “In the 19th century, Harrisonburg was a battleground in the war between the North and South. Now it is host to a battle between two formidable foes: college kids bent on running amok vs. the townies who refuse to let them.”


  5. Adam Sharp says:

    Adam, your face is trying to take over page 1.”

    Ugh, that’s not going to help sales at all.

  6. Adam Sharp says:

    Italics are dangerous.

  7. finnegan says:

    WHSV ran a related story about the financial impact of JMU today.

  8. JGFitzgerald says:

    FYI on the number “over 16,000” cited above. First off, AP style says it should read “more than 16,000.” Now, having established my tight-ass creds, let me note that the chart here puts the fall 2006 number at 16,970, which is, indeed, more than 16,000. And since JMU let in a few more this year, it’s almost certainly more than 17,000 by now. BTW, I email this chart to the DNR every once in a while, but they keep reporting 16,000.

  9. finnegan says:

    Interesting chart. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that one before.

    Although I’ve written entertainment drivel for a few newspapers, I have no real background in the AP style. Probably shoulda’ minored in journalism.

    Then again, who’s to say the AP style applies to blogs?

  10. JGFitzgerald says:

    On the other hand:

    I once saw a consumer-packaged AP stylebook in a bookstore with a diagonal strip across the cover with the words, “over XX Million copies sold.”

    Go figure.

  11. JGFitzgerald says:

    They changed their minds. After reporting 16,000 students as recently as Saturday, the DNR today reported 18,100 will enroll this year.

  12. Tom says:

    Here’s an article that talks about the planned growth by 2013.

  13. Tom says:

    The 16,000 figure was actually a quote from someone else. You can read the article here.

  14. JGFitzgerald says:


    There are probably better ways to get information about the largest institution in your coverage area than from a developer in Charlotte. Bad information in a quote is still bad information.

  15. Tom says:

    I agree, but the article wasn’t about how many students were enrolled in JMU, we have other articles stating the correct number (as I’ve provided)- this article was about housing units and an interview with the builder. Maybe the correction should be voiced to Mr. Sweeney if it”s that big a deal? Otherwise the reporter was just quoting the guy, and he was saying “about 16,000” not meaning to nail down a specific number.

  16. JGFitzgerald says:


    Sugarcoat it how you will, it was sloppy journalism.

  17. Tom says:

    I fail to see how quoting someone in an article is “sloppy journalism.” Are you suggesting that the reporters get in the habit of changing direct quotes? The word “about” does not mean “exact” either. For “exact” please refer to other articles that deal directly with JMU enrollment. Like This one. Or this one.

  18. JGFitzgerald says:


    Your argument is nonsense. If a direct quote contains bad information, the reporter should point that out and explain what about the quote makes it so important that it should still be used. Changing direct quotes? No. Correcting bad information? Yes.

    Realistically, was this a matter of journalistic ethics for a reporter who refused to change a direct quote, or a simple matter of a reporter and an editor who had no idea how many students go to JMU?

  19. Tom says:

    I think you fail to grasp a few fundamental concepts here. One, the article was about housing units, not how many students were currently enrolled at JMU. Two, the person that the quote was taken from said “about” meaning he wasn’t stating an exact number. Three, being that the article was about housing units and not enrollment and that the quote was not stating and exact figure, going back and highlighting a porting of an article that wasn’t exactly correct and didn’t have anything to do with the story would be anal retentive. Don’t you think?

    And by your comments you aren’t exactly correct either. You said we “changed our minds” and that “I email this chart to the DNR every once in a while, but they keep reporting 16,000.” But as you can see, whenever we are specifically reporting on the numbers of enrolled students our numbers are consistent. I gave two examples of articles that had the same figures. So your comments are wrong.

  20. Dave Briggman says:

    Hey Tom, I’ve got no dog in this fight, but Joe has a point.

    I kind of doubt the DNR would think quoting someone making a defamatory statement was anything BUT sloppy journalism…if you wouldn’t be irresponsible with defamatory statements, why quote facts that are inaccurate?

    Oh wait, if your paper didn’t believe in quoting factually inaccurate pieces, you’d have to toss most — if not all — of the articles coming from the Associated Press. :-)

  21. JGFitzgerald says:


    No need to get personal. The concept I do grasp is that a newspaper should be accurate. If an estimate ending with three zeros shows up in any kind of story, it should be the nearest thousand, not a close one. Does the Convo hold 6,800 in a story about basketball and 7,400 in a story about a graduation? I doubt it.

    By the way, if a story about JMU growth mentions the planned housing development of 228 units, would it be OK to round it off to “about 175” since the story isn’t really about housing?

    I’m not really sure what it is you’re defending here, beyond the right to be wrong, but since it seems to mean so much to you, I’ll let you have the last word. I’m done now.

  22. Tom says:

    According to these figures total enrollment was "estimated" at 17,400 as of Fall last year. But how many were "full-time" students in need of housing (which the article was about)? Maybe the word "about" needs to be clarified, because to me this doesn’t imply an exact figure it implies an "approximation." And Dave, what was it about the article you thought was a defamatory statement?

  23. Dave Briggman says:

    No Tom, I said if the DNR quoted someone who made a defamatory statement, it wouldn’t be thought of as “sloppy journalism”, it would be reckless, just as I think Joe and I (and others) think quoting someone who makes a factually inaccurate statement.

  24. Tom says:

    So basically you are saying no one should EVAR quote the current president again. Right? :-)

  25. Dave Briggman says:

    Yeah, I’m OK with that…

    But getting back to the point, there are times when I’m at an event where you have a reporter (I won’t name the reporter for the sake of this discussion) and although I’ve paid close attention to whatever meeting was being covered, the description of facts and events are quite different in the DNR than as I remember them to be.

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