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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“To stay the best, UA can’t rest easy”

According to a recent poll in The Wall Street Journal, Arizona State University ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to U.S. companies’ desire to hire graduates. The UA did not even crack the top 25.

The poll surveyed 479 of the nation’s largest public and private businesses, government agencies and nonprofits. The businesses were asked which colleges’ or universities’ graduates were “”best prepared and most able to succeed”” in the workforce, according to a Sept. 13 report in The Wall Street Journal.

Pennsylvania State University topped the list, and ASU, the UA’s chief in-state rival, rounded out the top five.

The poll results reveal a trend that should startle UA students, faculty and administrators. According to its findings, the economic recession is forcing employers to visit fewer schools. Instead of reaching out across the nation, “”big employers are focusing more intently on nearby or strategically located research institutions with whom they can forge deeper partnerships with faculty.”” This means that the UA has been deliberately passed over by major companies looking for recruits in the Southwest. When it comes to Arizona research universities, ASU, it seems, is quickly becoming the favorite.

The UA has spent years pooh-poohing its neighbor to the north, certain in its status as the academically stronger and more rigorous Arizona university. But increasingly over the past several years, that attitude simply doesn’t match up with the facts.

Under the leadership of President Michael Crow, who took the helm in 2002, ASU has embarked on a variety of projects to transform the massive university. From redesigning Barrett, the Honors College at ASU to moving strategic programs to a revamped downtown campus, Crow has made impressive efforts to boost ASU’s credibility and reputation. ASU’s freshman retention rate has risen over the past three years, topping out at 83 percent this year. Meanwhile, the UA’s rate has fallen for two consecutive years, with this year’s rate resting at a decidedly mediocre 78 percent. ASU still accepts a higher percentage of applicants than the UA — a whopping 90 percent — but has figured out how to both keep its students on a degree-seeking path and prepare those students for the workforce.

Painful as it is to say, ASU must be doing something right.

The UA, meanwhile, seems to have been resting on its laurels all this time. Many UA programs — lunar and planetary sciences, optics, entrepreneurship and geology in particular — are stellar. But those programs have always been good, and new powerhouses don’t seem to be cropping up on campus.

Instead, the UA administration only reacts to issues when they become problems. As much as they would like to deny it, President Robert Shelton, Provost Meredith Hay and their UA Transformation team didn’t embark on a massive restructuring of the university in order to make its programs stronger and more cutting edge; they did so because they were faced with near-apocalyptic budget cuts. UA administrators whine about having to do too much with too little, seemingly blissfully ignorant of the fact that their rival institution is flourishing through the recession, growing and changing in impressive new ways.

The current fiscal crisis, scary as it is, could be a blessing in disguise for the UA. Dire straits provide an opportunity for innovative solutions, an opportunity the UA administration has repeatedly passed over. Instead, we get hasty restructuring and a lot of bellyaching.  

Perhaps being so conspicuously left off The Wall Street Journal list will act as a wake-up call. The UA still has the potential to remain the strongest university in the state. But to achieve that, it can’t just rest on its previous accomplishments and former glory. Instead, the UA must follow ASU’s lead and find ways to adapt to the current economic climate and make the best of it. Staying at the top will take hard work that UA administrators must be willing to undertake.

At least we finally have a better football team.

— Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Heather Price-Wright, Colin Darland, Luke Money and Steven Kwan. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.  

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