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Wednesday January 17, 2001

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By The Wildcat Opinions Board

Nearly one out of every four freshmen at the University of Arizona will not return next semester.

A new study conducted by the US News and World Report estimates that the UA's freshmen dropout rate is 23 percent, much higher than other colleges with similar student populations and academic programs. Although this dropout level appears high, it is a result of Arizona's commitment to offering higher education to as many people as possible.

The high dropout rate is directly linked to the UA's liberal admissions requirements. Students can be admitted into the UA with a fairly low grade point average or with a high school standing in the top half of their class. This creates a freshman class that is possibly not prepared for the academic rigors of college, but as UA President Peter Likins put it, "we give everyone a try."

At the University of Wisconsin, on the other hand, the freshmen dropout rate is only 9 percent. Of course, most freshmen admitted last fall had a 3.6 grade point average. But do they, like the UA, give everyone the opportunity for higher education?

The UA also makes higher education more accessible to those that are economically downtrodden. One college report released last fall revealed a nationwide trend of rising tuition costs. Despite its own tuition increases, the UA has one of the lowest in the country. The average in-state annual tuition at four-year public universities is $3,500. At the UA, tuition is only $2,348.

The reason the UA has a statistically lower tuition rate than other institutions is because Arizona's commitment to an inexpensive college education is stated expressly in their state constitution. Article 11 Section 6 states, "The university and all other state educational institutions...shall be as nearly free as possible." Although our tuition is not "free" it remains affordable to a large percentage of Arizona's population, a goal set out at the birth of our state that continues to be protected by the Board of Regents.

The dropout rate at the UA could be quickly remedied. The UA could raise the cost of tuition, which would lead to a smaller freshmen enrollment, which would create smaller class sizes and a better education for those who could pay. Or, the UA could raise its admissions standards. However, this would exclude students that did not try hard enough, or who were unable to focus in high school, that still deserve a chance for higher education. The UA's commitment to providing higher education to many is what separates it from other universities, like the University of Wisconsin.

Furthermore, the UA is working on providing services to struggling freshmen. The current construction projects, particularly the Integrated Learning Center, reflect the UA's commitment to turning the dropout trend around.

While 23 percent might seem like a monstrous number of failing students, it is explained by the UA's commitment to at least trying to provide higher education to as many people as possible.

Staff Editorials represent the collaborative effort of the Wildcat Opinions Board.