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ASU designs for future with 2020 vision

January 31, 2008

Arizona State University’s projected enrollment of 100,000 students by the year 2020 is a statistic that some people find surprising – maybe even shocking. But the projected growth in college-eligible high school graduates demands that ASU expand to support the needs of the state; if not, Arizona children will be denied access to higher education.

The university’s growth in undergraduate students will occur on the Downtown Phoenix, West and Polytechnic campuses. The Tempe campus, already one of the largest single campuses in the nation, is currently at its planned instructional capacity.

In the ongoing expansion of its academic and physical periphery, Arizona State University continues to break with tradition in its definition of a 21st century college education, pairing excellence with accessibility. And with accessibility comes bigger numbers – increased faculty size; more degree programs; more classrooms, residence halls and support facilities; and more opportunities on the four campuses scattered across the Phoenix metropolitan area that will continue to mature over the next decade to cushion ASU’s growth.

With a cross-campus, cross-discipline approach to education, ASU is forging ahead to a future that softens the boundaries between university and community, and debunks the old higher learning theory of exclusivity as a way to excellence.

EDITOR’S NOTE – For more on this story see: What the ASU community has to say about the university’s evolution; how the West campus has changed in the last five years; how ASU is fitting into the state’s education puzzle (pdf download).

Big opportunities

More than five years ago, ASU President Michael Crow and other university leaders mapped out the New American University comprehensive development plan. The vision was driven by the state’s economic needs as well as the swelling number of college-eligible students that spurred the construction of 35 new public high schools in Arizona over the last five years. According to the Arizona Department of Education, 41,152 new students enrolled in public high schools during this time.

Opening ASU’s doors to this diverse sea of students through increased scholarship awards, financial aid programs and community grass-roots recruitment services is crucial to meeting Arizona’s education goals while feeding the state’s mounting workforce demands.

Executive Vice President and University Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi says the growth was driven by two forces.

“The state economy is dependent on us providing employers with educated, high-skilled workers,” says Capaldi.

“Because Arizona doesn’t attract enough educated workers from other states to meet workforce demands, she says, Arizona’s universities are tasked with graduating them to keep the state economy healthy and growing.

“At the same time, we have committed to meet the demand for higher education,” Capaldi adds.

An estimated 100,000 people move to central Arizona each year, making Maricopa the fastest-growing county and Phoenix the fifth largest city in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among the reported 696,000 people who moved to the Phoenix area between 2000 and 2006 were those seeking employment and higher education, which helped open up a host of economic opportunities for the state while creating a multitude of challenges as well.

Current growth-related problems that impact cities all over the world will only intensify in central Arizona over the next couple decades as experts forecast a 109 percent population hike between 2000 and 2030, making up an additional 5.6 million people living in the desert.

In working with state officials to accommodate the rapid population growth, ASU has committed itself to exploring solutions for such problems as urban sprawl, traffic congestion and the depletion of natural resources. ASU is creating a new paradigm in higher education, one that integrates these diverse 21st century challenges with academic disciplines that are – by necessity – unremittingly modern.

With research expenditures doubling over the last six years, countless studies and initiatives – and a dozen new programs and schools at ASU – highlight emerging perspectives and fields of discipline that address the scientific and social quandaries of our day.

“Because we are growing, we can have the most up-to-date, cutting-edge programs because they are newly developed,” says Capaldi. “We have interdisciplinary degree programs and programs in such new fields as sustainability, music therapy, and Earth and space science.”

With the growing demand for higher education, universities across the United States will continue to get bigger. Enrolling more than 200,000 students across its 10 campuses, the University of California system, which includes some of the best public universities in the country, has expanded its population over time as a direct response to its state’s steady growth. Likewise, the California State University system has more than 440,000 students on its 23 campuses.

Growing up, growing out

The university’s notion of soft boundaries is evident in its school-centric – not campus-centric – approach to learning. Unrestrained by a campus core, ASU has sustained its growth and innovative momentum with the development of four distinct campus environments. The campuses not only support the thriving student population, but also nurture the students’ respective studies and link them to the surrounding community.

In 2006, as ASU became one university in one more place with its fourth campus launch in downtown Phoenix, students and faculty were introduced to an entirely different ASU academic atmosphere – the city.

The Downtown Phoenix campus’ close proximity to the city’s public service agencies enabled ASU to cluster colleges whose work involves public service. For example, students studying journalism, social work, criminology and criminal justice, and medicine can take advantage of

internships and a number of faculty-professional teaching partnerships that integrate study with practice.

“As President Crow and the academic leaders formulated the educational and research mission of our university to serve a future potential of 100,000 students, it became very clear that a concerted effort must be mounted to build a new campus and add additional facilities to the other three campuses,” says Scott Cole, deputy executive vice president of the university, who has seen the four campuses develop into unique academic spaces.

“A series of facilities were planned to serve the academic, research and student service needs of Arizona State University,” adds Cole. “The strategic physical development has not only been unprecedented, but the magnitude of the effort over this very short timeframe is monumental.”

Over the last seven years, the West campus has experienced a 63 percent enrollment increase, as it grew from 5,325 students to 8,664. The Polytechnic campus has exhibited exponential growth with a 351 percent increase since 2000 as its population of 1,939 students grew to 8,752 students. The Tempe campus has held steady in its enrollment size at roughly 51,000 students – a 17 percent growth over the last seven years.

Plans to develop the West, Polytechnic and Downtown Phoenix campuses would put ASU enrollment at about 100,000 students by 2020 with approximately 15,000 at West, 15,000 at Polytechnic, and 15,000 at Downtown. The only campus that will experience little additional growth will be Tempe.

“On our four different locations we provide different learning environments, which allow each student to find not only a major, but a place that fits them,” says Capaldi.

The ongoing development at the West, Polytechnic and Downtown Phoenix campuses allows university leaders to build up the campuses to match the colleges that will inhabit the area.

“The existing academic and physical infrastructures are much smaller than at Tempe, making them the ideal locations for significant growth in our student body size while increasing our academic quality using new approaches to teaching and research.”

Big and excellent

For ASU, enhancing academic quality and increasing the student body size go hand in hand. Other public universities also have been successful at marrying academic excellence with 50,000-plus enrollment numbers. Along with ASU, institutions such as Ohio State University and University of Florida challenge the idea of a quality education as a trade-off to widespread access with their recent U.S. News and World Report rank as top national schools.

“ASU’s growth and size is one of its main advantages,” says Capaldi. “We have over 250 different majors, which allow any student to find a degree that fits their talents and interests.”

Helping accommodate the university’s growth, the 2008 Arizona state budget allowed for additional faculty and staff, and allotted funds to help improve ASU’s freshman course quality by boosting the number and quality of technology-driven courses, expanding and refining major course offerings, and enhancing advising services for students.

In reaching its goal of access and a diverse student body, ASU has more than doubled the respective number of black, Native American and Hispanic students over the last decade. ASU has also offered substantial spending on financial-need students with a rate that has more than tripled since 2002, as the number of ASU students from low-income families has increased by more than 800 percent during this time.

“Each year the entering freshman class at ASU increases in size, quality and diversity, matching the rapid growth, the rising talent and the cultural heritage of Arizona’s youth,” says Jim Rund, vice president of university student initiatives. “While the entering freshman class has increased almost 75 percent in the last 10 years, the number of top scholars, the number of students of color, and the number of students from low-income families have all increased at a more rapid rate.

“This underscores our commitment to be the most accessible, high-quality institution in the country. This is what the state’s circumstance requires.”

With an average GPA of 3.34, the incoming ASU freshman student is required to rank in the top half of his or her graduating class and have completed the 16-course high school graduation requirement. This admission standard makes only about 38 to 40 percent of Arizona high school graduating seniors eligible to attend ASU or any other public university in the state.

Among ASU’s most recent entering freshman class, 148 students were National Merit Scholars, 111 students were National Hispanic Scholars, and 10 were Flinn Scholars.

As the university has expanded, it has seen exceptional growth in the number of faculty who belong to the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of London, in addition to Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners. The size of tenured and tenure-track faculty has increased nearly 20 percent, and the diversity of the faculty has swelled by 34 percent, as increasing participation of women and minorities in the faculty and administration has helped typify the New American University.

As ASU continues to grow in unique directions, its excellence relies on its big numbers, its abundant programs and its diverse population. Boundless, innovative and community-centered, Arizona State University is letting the future rely on it.