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Record-breaking academic year strengthens student experience

February 20, 2009

The 2007-2008 school year was a remarkable time to be a student at Arizona State University.

Being a Sun Devil meant attending a university that was on the international radar, along with a multitude of national “best universities” lists. It meant being a leader in research and university sustainability, and an innovator in 21st century academics. It meant being a supporter of the right to higher education and the goal to make an impact with that education.

Being a Sun Devil meant being part of an institution that is as robust as it is accessible, that is as engaged as it is receptive.

As the number of ASU students continued to grow last year, so did the university’s national rankings, further demonstrating Arizona State University’s ability to grow both in size and quality.

ASU was ranked fourth best in “Up and Coming Schools” in the 2009 edition of “America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News & World Report. The new ranking highlighted 70 “schools to watch” in terms of promising and innovative changes in academics, faculty, students, campus life, diversity and facilities.

Additionally, U.S. News & World Report placed ASU in the top tier for the second year in a row as one of the “Best National Universities” and positioned several of the university’s graduate programs among the top 25 in the nation. In the same school year, ASU was included as a leading school for Hispanic students on several lists, including The Hispanic Outlook on Higher Education and Excelencia in Education’s “The Condition of Latinos in Education: Fact Book 2008.”

Students at ASU broke records in nearly every phase of the higher education process. In the 2007-2008 academic year, a record 14,535 students graduated from the university’s four campuses, as a record 168 National Merit Scholars matriculated at ASU. The university’s entering freshmen class included 11 Flinn Scholars and 110 National Hispanic and National Achievement Scholars – a number that has increased by 165 percent in the past five years.

The university’s extensive scholarship program allowed ASU’s West campus to break records with an awarded 296 scholarships totaling close to $700,000 for the academic year. Financial programs, such as ASU Advantage, continued to flourish as well.

Improving the student experience

Arizona State University is constantly working to improve the student experience for its vast, evolving student body. From contemporary, state-of-the-art facilities to new ways of approaching old curriculum, ASU is doing all it can to help students get the most out of their educational investment.

In fostering student success, learning and development, Arizona State University added 23 advisers; enhanced the eAdvisor online program so that students are better suited for majors that best fit their interests and abilities; established an online tracking system that assures students are progressing toward their degrees; and started issuing academic status reports twice in a single semester.

In addition, Student Success Centers hired more tutors for free walk-in appointments, and the university’s Supplemental Instruction expanded universitywide with more weekly study and review sessions for students in large lecture classes.

Because of improvements like this, more ASU freshmen are persisting toward their degrees than ever before, with a record number having returned to campus for their sophomore year. At 79.5 percent, freshman retention hit an all-time high in the fall of 2008.

To meet the growing demand for higher education, as well as online education, ASU launched a new initiative that aims to dramatically increase students’ access to higher education over the next decade. ASU Online and Extended Campus (ASU Online) plans to enroll and graduate tens of thousands of new students in the state, nation and all over the world. ASU Online will provide the infrastructure for all ASU colleges and schools to grow existing programs and develop new programs for meeting the needs of students and employers.

With the aim to meet international and cultural education needs, ASU established the School of International Letters and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus for the spring 2007 semester. With more than 20 language specialization areas, nine undergraduate degree programs, six certificate programs, four master degree programs and a doctorate in Spanish, the new school is built on the strengths of the former Department of Languages and Literatures, but reaches across traditional academic boundaries to create new alliances with other departments, schools and centers.

A host of opportunities for students came into bloom on the Downtown Phoenix campus, the most recent addition to the ASU community. The young campus brought expanded class offerings, including weekend, evening and Web-enhanced classes, and a wide variety of internships that placed students in downtown agencies, companies, organizations and schools.

A new six-story, 230-square-foot building in the heart of downtown became home base for students in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The building, primed for journalism students in the digital age, features two television studios, seven digital computer labs and a 150-seat auditorium. With a new campus and a new building, the Cronkite School also established itself as a national digital media leader through an initiative by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that aims to usher journalism into a new direction.

During the academic year, ASU continued leading university sustainability efforts, as it deployed the largest university solar installation and implemented a new green policy: ASU PUR 210. The policy states that all companies that want to do business with ASU must pass a stringent test of their environmental practices in nine key areas: energy, water, toxins and pollutants, bio-based products, forest conservation, recycling, packaging, green building and landscaping.

As a result, the university topped several ‘green’ lists. Named by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s top greenest universities – and by the Kaplan College guide as one of the country’s top 25 environmentally responsible universities – ASU received national merit for its sustainability-focused research, initiatives and programs. Sierra Magazine included ASU in their top 10 list of “coolest” schools.

Universitywide improvements further enhanced campus facilities. The school year brought with it a major renovation to the Tempe campus’ Memorial Union, which now offers students a more contemporary setting, as well as more variety in dining options. New luxury residence halls, such as downtown’s Taylor Place and Tempe’s Vista del Sol, provided students with quality living. And state-of-the-art academic spaces opened up  for students at the Polytechnic campus, as well as the Downtown Phoenix campus.

ASU ramped up its services to students with an expanded and enhanced university emergency text-message alert system that notifies students of university crises and directs them accordingly.

The university’s all-time high freshman retention rate might be attributed to the improvements made to the First Year Residential Experience program that helps students make a successful transition from high school to college.

And the university’s link to the job force became streamlined as more employers recruited on campus last year, and ASU Career Services reported a 15 percent increase in online job postings.

Additionally, the Sun Devil Entrepreneurship Network (SDEN), housed in ASU’s Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at SkySong, worked to connect the state’s vibrant start-up community with the energy of entrepreneurial students. Available to students on all four campuses, SDEN placed 58 students with local businesses in its inaugural year, and is aiming for 150 by July 2009. The entrepreneurship-focused internship gives students a real-world experience and offers companies the advantage of young, fresh talent.

Also looking for young talent, Teach for America selected Phoenix as the site for the sixth Teach for America Institute in the United States. ASU will play a major role in hosting new corps members and staff.  

With a year’s worth of improvements and additions, Arizona State University is further driving its mission of access, excellence and impact. The university’s growing student body not only is well positioned to earn a college degree from a top-ranked school, but to gain the vital experience needed to adapt to a rapidly changing 21st-century work force.