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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Highest college enrollment influx in AZ

Highest college enrollment influx in AZ

Undergraduate enrollment in Arizona schools has more than doubled over the last decade.

According to statistics from the 2011 almanac for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Arizona schools experienced a 121 percent growth in undergraduate enrollment from 1998 to 2008, the highest rate of growth of any state during that time.  

Undergraduate enrollment at the UA also grew markedly, albeit at a much slower rate. It increased approximately 12 percent from 2000 to 2008. This is compared to a 38 percent increase at Arizona State University during the same time frame.

UA President Robert Shelton cited in an e-mail that the UA’s comparably slow rate of growth as evidence of the university’s commitment to putting “”quality first.””

Melissa Vito, the vice president for student affairs, echoed his sentiment.

“”The demand for the UA has just been very high over the past few years, and even as we’re looking at our latest data for next year, it looks like next year’s class will be even bigger,”” Vito said. “”But we also want to make sure that we deliver quality, and it’s the balance between what our capacity is and making sure the students that are here have access to everything they need.””

Kasey Urquidez, interim assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of admissions, discussed some of the problems with ever-burgeoning enrollment.

“”Growth can be challenging,”” Urquidez said. “”Not only is it important to bring in a qualified group of students, it is important that we are proactive and keep the campus aware of the growth. We work closely with the academic units so they know how many students have been admitted, including the quality of the class, at all times. By continuous awareness, the growth is more manageable.””

Emily Connally, UA Graduate and Professional Student Council president, called enrollment growth a “”mixed bag.””

“”It’s a delicate situation, and people need to plan accordingly to accommodate large increases in enrollment,”” Connally said.

Connally did praise some of the steps the UA has taken to lessen the burden of increased enrollment, but she expressed some concerns over whether larger classes could cheapen the scholastic experience of some undergraduates.

“”A college degree is no longer something that can guarantee you a job,”” she said. “”If you can’t guarantee that somebody will be better off … if you can’t make it worth your investment, then you don’t have any real incentive for people to attend.””

Vito believes that such incentives are already in place.

“”I think that we, as the UA, have been kind of on a track to look at modest growth over a number of years,”” Vito said. “”That’s why you’ve seen things like the building of new residence halls, expansion of the Student Rec center and looking how we deliver curriculum in a way that is most effective for students.””

Vito cited the growing presence of the Think Tank on campus and greater outreach resources for students living off-campus as some examples of this.

“”We want all students to feel that they are a part of a community,”” she said.

Despite growing at a slower rate than some of its peers, the UA still ranks as the 23rd largest campus in the nation and the fifth largest in the Pacific 10 Conference. Wildcats are behind ASU, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Washington, and University of California at Berkeley. ASU is ranked as the second largest campus in terms of enrollment in the United States.

Urquidez is quick to defend UA’s fierce rival and sister school.

“”All three state institutions are dedicated to a quality student experience,”” Urquidez said. ””I have the opportunity to work closely with my counterparts at the other universities in-state, and I know we all want to provide a quality education. When you take the rivalry of sports out of the picture, we are less competitive and more focused on student success regardless of which school the student selects to attend.””     

Though the student population of all three Arizona universities is swelling in number, it’s online colleges that may be most responsible for Arizona’s startling growth over the past decade. The University of Phoenix, an online university, grew 17 percent in the last year alone, and has a total student enrollment of over 476,000, outpacing ASU for the title of largest campus in the United States, according to The Chronicle.

Representatives from the University of Phoenix could not be reached as of press time.

Signs of growth are becoming more evident in student demographics with this year’s freshman class being the first in UA history to top 7,000. It’s also evident on campus with the construction of several new residence halls on Sixth Street.

“”We hope to continue to grow the freshman class for a few more years, then sustain,”” Urquidez said. ””We are focused on continuing to bring in a very qualified and diverse class of new students.””   

While enrollment is at historic levels, state funding for higher education is plummeting. The UA lost more than $86 million in-state funding over the last two years and is now at its lowest level since 2002, according to the UA Budget Office.

This fact and the difficulties it presents are not lost on Connally.

“”I think it’s very difficult to plan for increased enrollment when you have to make cut after cut after cut,”” she said.

For Urquidez, there is a simple way to combat these difficulties.

“”We will continue to focus on bringing in the best students in Arizona and nationally to learn and grow at UA,”” she said.

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