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Focus on students makes ASU a better place


February 07, 2007

Heavy-equipment trucks that rumble on all four ASU campuses may be the most visible sign that ASU is working to improve the student experience for its growing student body. New residence halls, new classrooms and new research facilities—all are aimed at helping students feel at home and get the classes they need to graduate with a valuable degree from a top-ranked school.

Less visible are the incremental changes, including new schools and majors, more academic support for new freshmen, increased financial aid and accelerated hiring of top faculty. These are some of the key changes over the past year which are helping students succeed at the university at an increased rate.

The university has stepped up its financial support for students, providing nearly $100 million in gift aid in 2005-06, an increase of 16 percent over last year, in addition to nearly $385 million disbursed in other sources of aid. ASU's need-based student aid has increased 246 percent since 2002-03. The average aid package to Arizona undergraduates last year was $7,973, with about 60 percent of Arizona undergraduates receiving aid.

In the past two years ASU has enrolled nearly 600 low-income Arizona high school graduates through the ASU Advantage program, which provides tuition and fees, books, room and board. In fall 2007 the income ceiling for the program will rise to $25,000 from $18,850.

The academic stature of the university continues to increase, with the creation of 12 new schools in 2005-06. The new School of Sustainability propelled ASU into several national publications, as did research out of the School of Life Sciences , among others. Princeton Review called ASU “academically, a rising star in the world of research.” The university also was named one of the top schools for National Merit Scholars, Fulbright Scholars and Peace Corps volunteers.

ASU added 24 new degree programs last year and awarded 13,055 degrees. The university hired 145 new tenured and tenure-track faculty with impressive records of scholarship, 37 percent of them minority faculty.

With a freshman retention rate of 79 percent and a graduation rate that continues to move upward, ASU is seeing more students succeed than ever before. Smaller class sizes in English and math are helping this effort, along with small freshmen-year seminars in the School of Life Sciences taught by senior faculty and staff.

Hassayampa Academic Village opened on the Tempe campus last fall, as a suite-style living complex for 900 students with shared study areas, community kitchens and courtyards, plus wireless zones, LCD monitors and in-room Ethernet ports for every student. Like ASU's other freshman halls, it offers tutoring, advising and classrooms onsite, as part of a continuing effort to create living and learning communities. The second phase for about 1,000 more students will open next fall.

Construction has begun in Tempe 's south campus on another 1,866-bed student housing community that will feature a pool and a 23,000-square-foot community center with a fitness center, social lounge, game room, theater and study rooms.

The learning community concept has been taken to another level by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), which now has seven different communities organized around a curricular theme. Students take their classes together as a group, learning English, biology, geography and history while exploring sustainability, global studies or human disease. The popular concept expanded to enroll about 325 students this year, with about 135 living together in Hassayampa.

Urban campus living came to ASU for the first time this year with the opening of the Downtown Phoenix campus. Some students moved into the 250-bed Residential Commons, a renovated hotel with spacious rooms, while others commuted from all over the Valley or took classes online. Opening enrollment was more than 6,000, double the projected number. Students will have access to their own Wells Fargo student activity center at the Arizona Center starting March 2.

West campus student life matured with the formation of a Residence Hall Association to provide opportunities for student voice and leadership. Students also got their first full-service Starbucks and a new study lounge in the Fletcher Library, along with increased visibility for counseling services. On the academic side, a new, single accreditation has meant more choices of classes and additional degree programs.

The Polytechnic campus expanded humanities and arts offerings and lower division courses, increased the number of academic support workshops and extended library and writing center hours. Students at the rapidly-growing campus—which hit 6,500 enrollment this year—now have their own Program Activities Board and several new sports and academic clubs, indicating their increased engagement.

In another effort to streamline the student path toward graduation, CLAS eliminated college-level class distribution requirements beyond general studies, making it easier for students to take more courses in their major and to pursue a minor.

In the business school a group of 121 freshmen are the first to take part in Carey Direct, a new program designed to jump-start their academic careers with group experiences and early development of leadership skills. And in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, the undergraduate program has been streamlined to require 120 hours of coursework, a reduction of eight hours.

Across the university, ASU has an aggressive agenda to help students be more successful, both in school and in their lives after graduation. Part of that agenda is to help prepare K-12 students to enter college, while another is to increase accessibility to more Arizona residents, and yet another is to ensure ASU students get the support they need to graduate, once they're here.

So the construction continues, and the pace of change accelerates. With ASU's growth and its commitment to the community, standing still is not an option.