By Laura Ingalls
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Dave Stutenroth says he's made every mistake a new student could make.
The 25-year-old electrical engineering junior says he suffered from a lack of money, dedication and desire his first time at the university in 1988.
His first semester was a disaster. He got involved in the college party scene and his grades suffered. Part of the problem was that he majored in engineering at the suggestion of his high school guidance counselor, he says.
"At the time no one could tell me what an engineer did. I got here, and for lack of anything better to do, majored in engineering."
After his first semester, Stutenroth quit school in the spring to salvage his academic record. He was prepared to return to school the next fall until his roommates moved out in the middle of the night and left him to pay off the $1,200 lease on their apartment.
Now he lives with his father in Casa Grande and commutes two and a half hours to school each day. Stutenroth returned to engineering after briefly majoring in theater and plans to graduate in two years.
"It seems my only way to stay focused is to keep away from all the bad craziness that is the University of Arizona," he says.
Stutenroth would be considered a "career student" by administrators who would like to limit students to four years to graduate. However, he doesn't agree with those that think his studies are for pleasure.
"As far as I drive to school everyday it's not a hobby. If I drove that far for a hobby, I'd golf."
In February, a bill was struck down in the state Legislature that would have required students to pay out-of-state tuition when they exceeded 32 units over their major requirements. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jean McGrath, said in January that if the bill didn't pass, she believed the Arizona Board of Regents would change the policy.
Andrew Hurwitz, an Arizona Board of Regents member, says the board dropped a similar measure to charge students non-resident tuition if they exceeded 160 units. There would have been problems determining if students had legitimate reasons for having more units, such as engineering majors, returning students or double majors, he says.
Pat Sheats, a 26-year-old astronomy and physics senior, says he moved home after his sophomore year to care for his parents. His father collapsed from viral pneumonia at the same time his mother lost her job, and they couldn't afford to finance his education.
He returned as a full-time student last spring after quitting a job with the Pima County Bar Association. His financial situation improved when he turned 25 because it is easier for him to get loans.
"I thought about (returning) for a long time. It was a major decision to go back to school because it involved having to give up my job," Sheats says. "I didn't expect to go back to school, but I really wanted to get my degrees. I figured I should see it through to the end."
However, the quality of education has suffered because administrators seem to want to turn the university into a vocational school, he says.
"The reason I came to this university in the first place was because of its outstanding reputation in astronomy," Sheats says. "Since that time, between the regents, Legislature and administration, it seems there is an effort underway to turn this into just another state university where everyone goes 'rah, rah' for the football team and gets a degree in business."
"It could be an outstanding university for science but it seems the regents and the administration would rather turn it into a party school," he says.
The university shuts out students interested in learning when they limit people to four years, Sheats says.
As an older, returning student, Sheats is interested in learning, not just getting a grade, he says. Younger students view his approach with curiosity, he says.
"Generally someone who gets their degree in four years in the sciences is viewed as having their act together, working hard. Someone who can't do that in the academic world is viewed with some suspicion," Sheats said.
Older students generally are more concerned with academics mid
than their younger counterparts who get involved in debating campus politics or special interest topics, he says.
"From my point of view, when we hear controversies like gays in the ROTC program we tend to say 'so what,'" Sheats says. "There are issues that have more importance in terms of impact."
"I figure I've been here long enough that I don't have anything to prove. I just want to get a degree."
Stutenroth agrees that some younger students lose their focus on learning.
"At the forefront, the university seems like a forum for those who want to complain. It doesn't look like a university, and that has changed since I got here," he said.
Gretchen Robinson, a 35-year-old linguistics junior, says she wasn't ready for college when she was 18 years old.
"I had really no internal motivation, just my parents pushing me into college," says Robinson, who attended Wellesley University in Boston in 1977.
Robinson says her parents expected her to attend college immediately because of her prep school background. She finally agreed to go to college to "get out of the house."
"I guess I always said I'd be a doctor to please my parents. I realized in my first biology class at Wellesley that I didn't want to be a doctor."
After one year of college, Robinson joined the U.S. Air Force without consulting her parents.
"I didn't really ask them. I just did it," she says. "I think I just had to sort of take off and find my own way."
In 1980, the Air Force stationed her in Tucson and she started taking classes at the UA. One year later, she was sent to a base in England.
When she returned to Arizona in 1985, she began taking classes in anatomy and physiology to become a midwife. However, her interest waned and she quit school again.
Robinson had two children and attended Pima Community College before returning to the UA last spring as a full-time student.
Older students are more concerned with academics than the social aspects attractive to younger students, she says.
Robinson plans to get a master's degree, but the idea that older students are making a career out of college is a misguided perception, she says.
"Some of us haven't figured out what we're going to do after college, but we're all interested in learning, getting a degree and going on to something else."
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