President, Virginia Commonwealth University
Michael Rao, Ph.D., became the fifth president of Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health System in 2009.
In this role, President Rao leads a nationally premier, urban public research university with a comprehensive medical center and a Level I trauma center that is among the best in the commonwealth. VCU educates more than 31,000 students from 101 countries in more than 220 degree and certificate programs. As the largest employer in the Richmond area and sixth largest in the commonwealth, VCU’s economic impact on Virginia exceeds $6 billion annually. Additionally, VCUarts Qatar — located in Doha’s Education City — is internationally recognized for excellence in art and design.
Guided by its current strategic plan, Quest 2025: Together We Transform [PDF], the university will refocus the undergraduate student experience, strengthen educator and researcher compensation, increase national prominence through research, improve the patient experience, and meet the goal set for our largest capital campaign in university history.
Under President Rao’s leadership, VCU’s place among national research universities continues to rise. U.S. News & World Report ranks 22 graduate programs in the top 50. Consistently recognized for excellence, VCUart’s sculpture program and the College of Health Profession’s nurse anesthesia program are the best in the nation at No.1. The university is ranked no. 20 and no. 38, respectively, by the National Institutes of Health for addiction studies and neuroscience research. VCU is designated as being “Community Engaged” with “Very High Research Activity” by the Carnegie Foundation.
Classified as a Tier III institution with the highest level of financial authority by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, VCU educates and graduates more Pell-eligible and first-generation college-going students than its Tier III counterparts in the commonwealth combined.
With the addition of over 5.3 million square feet, President Rao has overseen one of the largest-ever expansions of VCU’s footprint through the construction of living-learning environments, academic meeting spaces and state-of-the-art clinical and laboratory facilities. With guidance from the university’s master facility plan, ONE VCU, improved transit access to VCU and VCU Health for students and employees has been implemented. A soon-to-be constructed STEM facility will expand existing lab space and support innovative teaching methods.
President Rao serves as chair of the Virginia Council of Presidents and the Virginia Bio+Tech Partnership Authority. He also serves as chair of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and he is its representative for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. He is a senior advisory board member of the Northern Virginia Technology Council and is the board secretary for the American Council on Education.
President Rao has been in higher education administration for more than 25 years, beginning in California in 1992, when he became president of Mission College. At the time, he was the youngest college president in the nation. He went on to serve as chancellor of Montana State University – Northern and president of Central Michigan University.
President Rao holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He and his wife, Monica — a watercolorist and graphic designer — have two sons.