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Stuck between greatness and mediocrity

By Scott Andrew Shulz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 9, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Scott Andrew Schulz

Second tier, such is our university. The latest edition of the controversial U.S. News & World Report college rankings was released just over a week ago and again the UA missed being a part of the illustrious first tier of universities. While we have come close to cracking the top 50 many a time, we have repeatedly fallen short of gaining such recognition and thus, the question of "why" is begging to be addressed.

Studying the pages of the magazine, you find that the most glorified schools are those that have a solid academic reputation and require superior SAT or ACT test scores.

The acceptance rates for these schools also tend to be between 30 and 40 percent. When observing these statistics you discover that, in addition, these colleges and universities have exceptionally high retention and graduation rates.

The freshman retention rate at the UA in 1997 was reportedly 76 percent; the graduation rate, a miserable 52 percent. We have an acceptance rate of 82 percent, which allows you and practically every friend from high school to come to school here.

Thankfully, UA President Likins has made it known that he intends to tackle the issue of improving such numbers at our university. But while his intentions have been positive, he has unfortunately gone about the task in an ironically incorrect manner.

Likins' belief is that the UA should be more focused on helping its freshmen adjust to college life.

By doing so, freshmen would be less likely to drop out of school and, in turn, the retention rate would rise. Thus, he has helped convince the UA administration that we need a multi-million dollar freshmen center, which, as you may have noticed, is currently being constructed on the UA mall.

However, as nice as this might look on paper, the real issue is not whether or not we need to be holding the hands of our freshmen students. The future of this university and its reputation in the nation's pool of rankings is reliant upon one question: Will the UA continue to expand or will it challenge the minds and hearts of its students by raising the standards of admission and, along these lines, force us to truly prove we deserve the rewards of higher education year after year?


During the last decade we have witnessed an explosion in the number of students attending college. Society has convinced us that college is a guarantee for everyone, offering a true chance at success.

This has led to the problem of overcrowding at numerous universities, including the UA. Our campus is reportedly reaching capacity and will do so soon. Arizona State University opened a west campus as a means of alleviating the congestion of having one of the nation's largest student populations. ASU unfortunately shied away from raising standards, instead bending to the pressures of '90s education - more space equals more customers.

And it is paying for its decision as far as reputation is concerned. ASU is a tier three institution.

Before this decade, attending college was viewed as a privilege. It was available only to those who demonstrated they had the drive to demand more out of life. They could be challenged academically and be shaped as leaders.

Now, declining standards, such as those that exist at the UA, allow average and below-average students to dilute the opportunities of possible leaders by flooding our university with mediocrity. Classes become full at rapid speeds and not all are able to get what they need.

In addition, money is spent creating classes to teach basic skills in writing and math that should already have been acquired by students entering higher education. Yes, the opportunity to attend college is a must for all, but is that not given in high school? Those who work hard enough in high school deserve such opportunities and will receive them. And they will work harder if they are challenged with the notion that only the best of the best get the chance to enjoy the experiences of attending a university such as the UA. They will rise to the level that is demanded of them.

Likewise, such an idea is the solution to reversing sagging retention and graduation rates.

Students who are forced to work harder and spend less time in a drunken stupor gain a respect for their professors and university that is unparalleled. With this focus, such students cannot help but graduate in four years, for they are determined to do so and have gained the knowledge to overcome obstacles. They learned lessons that are necessary to counter life's challenges.

The question now sits with President Likins. The question must be addressed to the leaders of our university. Will you allow greed and foolishness to tear us down and belittle the foundation upon which this university was founded? Or will you demand more from yourselves and from this institution of higher learning? The students of the UA will have to anxiously wait and see.

Scott Andrew Schulz is a communications junior. His column, Millstone, appears every Wednesday . He can be reached via e-mail at and welcomes positive and negative mail from you and President Likins.

Financial Times Fall 98