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COLLEGE GIVES NEW CHOICE TO LDS STUDENTS

Like the children of so many LDS families, Roger Barrus' daughter looked forward to moving from her hometown in Virginia to attend a church-owned school in the West.

She had the grades and her test scores were good, plus her parents liked the idea of a school that promoted strong values and religious principles.But because of a mix-up with her transcripts and rigorous enrollment standards, she was denied entry to Brigham Young University in Provo and Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho.

"She was devastated," Barrus said. "It's really hard, you know, when kids think there are no other alternatives than those two schools out there."

So Barrus came up with a third option.

He and a group of LDS businessmen and educators have acquired Southern Virginia College - a two-year private women's college - that they plan to turn into a four-year, co-ed school with a BYU-like honor code and an emphasis on moral and spiritual development.

It's a big change for the 130-year-old college nestled at the edge of a forest in Buena Vista, Va., a school known for the quality of its writing and equestrian programs.

The new managers, who took over this month, stress that the college will continue to be nonsectarian and nonprofit. But they expect many of the students will be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We're counting on it," said Barrus, a political science professor at Virginia's Hampden-Sydney College who will be the new provost and academic dean at Southern Virginia. "But it's not just LDS kids who want to come to a campus environment that supports religious principles."

Toby Anderson, a church-employed social worker and the school's new dean of students, said the goal is to enroll 400 students this fall. He already has received nearly 300 requests for application, mostly from Virginia-area LDS Church members.

"I am certain that prayers have been offered up for multiple decades that the church would become part of bringing higher education to the East Coast," he said. "This is a nonsectarian school, but we certainly will have a very large LDS influence."For instance, a full-time institute director to teach LDS Church studies will be hired and a building dedicated to that purpose, although the school will continue to support the campus' Baptist Student Union and Catholic Min-is-tries.

Acquiring the school first crossed Barrus' mind when its current president, John Ripley, told him Southern Virginia was closing because it had lost its accreditation due to long-term debt of $4.5 million.

Barrus, a second counselor in the Chesterfield, Va., LDS stake, then called his stake president, Glade Knight, "who happens to be a property management-development guy," and asked him if he would like to buy a college.

"I told him, `It's got horses.' He's a real horse nut so he said, `Buy it,' " Barrus said.

Knight, who will be chairman of the college's board of trustees, in fact had been trying to find an eastern college congenial to LDS stu-dents.

"The way the great human resource manager above has orchestrated this is just incredible," said Anderson.

The new managers will assume the school's debt but do not plan to raise the $11,500 yearly tuition or the $6,000 for fees, room and board. Instead, they hope to raise $50 million over five years from corporate sponsors and indi-vid-uals.

Ripley, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and special programs director Amy Burgess acknowledge the takeover upset a few faculty, staff and students at the school known before 1992 as Southern Seminary.

"We still have some alumni mad about the name change," Burgess said.

But most were simply glad the school won't close.

"To me it was a perfect fit," said Ripley, who hopes to continue at the college in another capacity.

The community is no stranger to the LDS Church. Barrus notes the first LDS missionaries came to Buena Vista in the late 1800s during an iron-ore boom. And an LDS chapel is just five blocks from campus.

But for some students, the strictures planned by the new LDS managers are too severe. Freshman Mary Grachus of Green County, Va., said some students have left because of incoming honor and dress codes similar to those at BYU and Ricks.

Yet, she and others are encouraged by some of the changes.

"I think it's going to be nice having it be co-ed," said Grachus, who is staying for the school's writing program.

The honor code students must sign will require them "to be honest, to live a chaste and virtuous life, to obey the law, to use clean language and to abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco and illegal drugs."

The dress code specifies that shorts and skirts be knee-length and that mustaches and beards be neatly trimmed. Earrings for men are out.

Men and women will be housed in separate dorms, and students will be required to give two hours of community service a week.

"We would like our graduates to possess a core of character and begin to live lives that are imbued with integrity," said the college's new president, David Ferrel, a senior analyst at the Wirthlin Group, a public opinion research firm.

The company's chief executive officer, Richard B. Wirthlin, who was appointed last month to the LDS Church's Second Quorum of the Seventy, believes Ferrel will help fill a void created by enrollment caps of 27,000 students at BYU and 7,500 at Ricks.

"The church is growing here (in the East), and for kids who cannot attend BYU for whatever reason, perhaps this will offer a good alternative," Elder Wirthlin said.

Ferrel emphasized the new owners never approached LDS Church leaders for financial help, nor do they expect any.

But as membership in the Utah-based church spirals toward 10 million, BYU and Ricks have been forced to be selective. BYU turned away more than 1,300 freshman applicants for the 1995 fall semester, and Ricks College rejected 2,000 for next fall.

That simple math should be a boon to Southern Virginia.

"Currently there is more demand for entry into BYU and Ricks than we have space for, so I can see a college like that appealing to some of our young people," said BYU President Merrill Bateman.

And there's a built-in advantage for Barrus. His daughter will remain close to home. She's one of Southern Virginia's fall applicants.