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The state of the students

MATT CAPOWSKI/Arizona Summer Wildcat

First year pharmacy student Zahra Namazifard walks with Associate Dean of Students Veda Kowalski yesterday in front of Centennial Hall.

By Cyndy Cole
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Wednesday July 10, 2002

Grades and SAT scores for incoming freshman are higher, but are their lives more stressed than the generation of students before them?

Juan Victor Quisp screams „incoming UA student.š

The folder full of papers in his hand.

No bookbag.

A nervous-looking parent in line with him at the CatCard office.

Quisp is a little nervous too. He‚s crossing the equator to go to college in a new country this fall. He‚s intent on studying music and graduating in four years.

But Quisp‚s arrival, like that of so many other undergraduates, marks a turn for UA.

The incoming classes of today have changed in countless ways from just 10 and 20 years ago.

Students look better on paper. They‚re coming in with better high school grade point averages and higher SAT scores.

And like Quisp, more undergraduates are coming from around the globe to attend UA.

But the students of today are savvy shoppers when it comes to picking a university. Applications to UA and university admissions are way up, while the number of students who selected UA out of all the colleges that admitted them has remained relatively unchanged.

And after admission, students enter a university that is statistically smarter and more globally comprised.

Still, as the demographics of incoming students show them looking smarter on paper than their predecessors, college life is getting more complicated.

Looking smarter

UA undergraduates are in good shape academically when they come to UA, performing even a little better than some of their predecessors.

„I think we have seen in our freshman class an increasing level of quality,š Dean of Students Melissa Vito said.

The mean high school grade point average for a UA freshman has increased from 3.12 to 3.35 in the past 14 years. The average freshman‚s SAT score has risen steadily by 118 points in the last 10 years, according to the UA Fact Book.

Graduation rates are climbing slowly, but they are climbing ų partly because the students coming into the UA are better prepared, said Rick Kroc, director of the office of curricular and enrollment research.

Fifty-five percent to 60 percent of UA undergrads ever graduate from the UA. Twenty-nine percent of the UA students who started school in 1997 graduated within four years.

UA administrators raised the minimum required number of high school preparatory classes for admission to UA from 11 to 16 in 1998, in an effort to recruit better-prepared students. But UA must accept any Arizona high school graduate with a grade point average of 2.5 or better, meaning the UA must still accept students with a „broad rangeš of preparedness, Kroc said.

And still, fewer students accepted by the university UA accepts are selecting the UA and registering here. UA accepted 19,575 freshman and transfer applicants in 2001-2002. Of those students, 11,540 ų 59 percent ų declined the university‚s offer.

Trading-in

On paper, students get high marks, academically speaking, but some say the stress of college life, work, family and friends and never-ending responsibilities is taking a toll on UA students and other students nationwide now more than ever.

Won-jun Jang, a management information systems junior from South Korea, came to UA because he researched MIS programs and found a top program at UA.

„I only study,š he said.

No parties.

No girls.

Few friends.

And when he gets stressed out ų or „sick and tiredš as he put it ų he sleeps.

He studies for five hours per day, partly because he struggles some with the English portions of his homework, he said. He‚s studying so he can keep a good grade point average, get into graduate school and get a good job, he said.

He works four hours per day, year round, as an undergraduate assistant in a plant sciences laboratory.

Like one-third of UA students, Jang transferred in. He‚s said he certainly won‚t be one of the 22 percent of students who don‚t return for a second year. The student retention rate hit an all-time high of 78 percent in 2000.

The general public image of student life is going to class for a couple of hours in the morning, then spending the rest of the day sitting by the pool. But that just isn‚t realistic, said Ken Marsh, director of Counseling and Psychological Services.

„You kind of battle that stereotype all the time, even when you‚re confronted with it,š Marsh said.

About 2,000 students come into Marsh‚s office every year for a variety of reasons. The most common reason, like at most other campus counseling centers nationwide, is depression.

The war on terrorism, the economy and the stresses of balancing school and work have weighed on Marsh‚s patients lately, he said.

Forty-seven percent of students were taking 15 units or more in a 1997-1998 survey administered by Assessment and Enrollment Research.

Roughly 32 percent of the students surveyed in the AER study worked 20 to 30 hours per week during the academic year. Ten percent worked more than 30 hours per week while in school.

Financial aid is readily available, but students are receiving more loans than scholarships or grants.

And the problems students face while in school have become more and more complex, Vito said.

Years ago, Vito and the offices under her supervision were listening to stories of soured relationships and other, simpler matters. Now they see students with unstable families, fewer financial and emotional resources, conflict and communication problems.

Students are more achievement-oriented, but with more deeply felt emotional problems, she said.

They are also busier than ever, said UA Provost George Davis.

Davis works largely with students in leadership positions, but he notes that those with or without jobs both fill their time with activities.

Frequent flyers

Quisp, the incoming freshman from Peru, is coming to study classical guitar. He said he decided to leave Peru to study at UA because the music program he is interested in is outstanding.

He‚s part of a trend, as more international students from a wider number of foreign countries have decided to come to UA than ever before.

Twenty years ago, 1,440 international students, both undergraduate and graduate, called UA home, according to statistics from the UA Fact Book.

In fall 2001, 2,951 international students from 137 countries were enrolled at UA.

For the past 10 years, more UA students have come from China for school in the fall than have come from nearby New Mexico, Utah or Nevada.

The number of students coming from the Middle East has declined since the 80s, when the Middle East made up the largest groups of international students. The students who left UA last September to return to their homes in the Middle East are not included in the Fact Book figure.

Now more students are matriculating from Japan, India and Korea. The enrollment of Indian international students has doubled in the past two years.

Enrollment from those countries is increasing because of their growing economies, Kroc said.

In six weeks the campus will spring to life again with the voices and footsteps of more than 25,000 undergraduates coming in from around the globe.

Students who‚ve never left their homes will cross oceans and continents to attend class here.

The undergraduate population will be rebuilt.

If current trends hold true, they‚ll be smarter and more prepared than the class before.

And a little more stressed out.

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