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University serves students of all ages

September 29, 2008

Education is the very foundation of Arizona State University.

The first public institution in Arizona to provide education beyond the eighth grade, the Territorial Normal School in Tempe, opened its doors Feb. 8, 1886 as a teachers’ college and the first form of higher education the state had ever seen. The core of the campus was a 20-acre cow pasture donated by leading citizens who sought an institution to train public school teachers as well as provide instruction to their sons and daughters in agriculture and the mechanical arts.

The first graduating class of Tempe’s normal school included 33 students who had earned the first higher education degrees awarded in the American Southwest. It wouldn’t be until about 50 years later in 1937 when the first graduate degree would be offered – a master’s degree in education.

Today, ASU’s education research and practice-oriented programs are provided through colleges across three of the university’s four campuses: the College of Teacher Education and Leadership at the West campus, the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education in Tempe, and the School of Educational Innovation and Teacher Preparation at the Polytechnic campus. These education programs consistently appear among the top-rated research-extensive institutions in the United States and tout an array of nationally and internationally distinguished faculty. When graduates from these programs exit the university, many of them enter Arizona’s work force, playing critical roles and serving the state as educators, administrators, counselors and psychologists.

ASU’s ability to leverage resources from across the university and through community partnerships have helped provide schools in the Greater Phoenix area with cutting-edge programs that bring journalism, sustainability, bioscience, bioengineering, law and athletics to grade-school students. This was particularly evident in the 2003 establishment of the Office of the Vice President for Education Partnerships (VPEP) – a unit that works primarily with prekindergarten-12, public and private sector partners to enhance the academic performance of Arizona’s students.

“We are deeply committed to achieving the next level of excellence in working with our partners to improve the education of Arizona’s children,” says Eugene E. Garcia, professor of education and vice president of education partnerships.

Although the university has a long history of engagement with the K-12 community, the development of a systemwide VPEP office has further enabled ASU to build on existing partnerships that focus significantly on innovative research and development. Since the office’s inception, more than 40 Valley school districts have participated as fully engaged partners, supported by $7.3 million in resources from 27 different agencies or foundations.

The impact can be seen in Maricopa County’s high school graduation rates that have improved comparatively with the assistance of university-partnered programs. For example, the graduation rate for Phoenix Union High School District increased six percent in only a three-year period from 2003 to 2006. One high school (Carl Hayden) improved dramatically during this time period from 67.1 percent to 77 percent in its graduation rate.

“As ASU evolves and matures into the New American University, its commitment to meeting the educational needs of Arizona’s children has never been greater,” says George W. Hynd, senior vice provost and dean of the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education. “It has not forgotten its roots.”

ASU has helped advance K-12 education even further with the 2006 launch of the Arizona Initiative for Math & Science Education – an Arizona public-private, tri-university collaborative model designed to improve educational outcomes in STEM (science, technology, math and science) fields. Since the launch of this initiative, the state has adopted new math and science standards to better prepare students for entrance into college and successfully compete in a 21st century workforce. As part of these efforts, ASU appointed an associate senior vice provost for STEM education improvement. This newly created position has been facilitating new directions for STEM education across the university.

Perhaps the most visible university-community partnership in education is this year’s emergence of University Public Schools, Inc. (UPSI), a vision that began five years ago and was brought into fruition through the hard work of highly qualified UPSI personnel and university staff and faculty members. The nonprofit organization works in collaboration with ASU to offer a competitive public school education to students throughout the Valley.

The recent fall opening of Polytechnic Elementary welcomed its first class of students into a unique academic environment that introduces a higher level of global education as well as technology learning. The school is expected to accommodate students from kindergarden through the ninth grade by 2010.

As a university that is succeeding in its mission to increase both student access and student quality, ASU has come a long way from its inaugural year as an official university in 1958.

With a current enrollment that tops 66,000 students, the university is home to an impressive number of National Merit Scholars – placing ASU among the top 20 universities in the country along with Harvard, Stanford, Yale, UC Berkeley, MIT and Princeton – and a record number of Fulbright Scholars. ASU offers more than 250 academic undergraduate programs and first-class research facilities, and since 1994 has been recognized as a premier research university.