More students are taking advantage of one of the top bargains in the country. The UW-Madison Admissions Office recently announced that over 6,100 freshmen have already enrolled for the fall 2001 semester. While the numbers will not be finalized until the end of registration, there is little doubt the count will shatter the record set in 1989, when 5,980 freshmen arrived.
Incoming students will receive one of the best educations money can buy. In U.S. News & World Report’s 2001 rankings, UW ranked in the top 35 among all schools and in the top 10 public schools. Perhaps equally important to the freshmen’s decision is UW’s fourth-lowest tuition in the top 35 and second lowest in-state tuition in the Big Ten.
An athletic program that regularly ranks among the best in the country, an active student population and the most livable city in the United States are just some of the additional advantages of being a student in Madison. Next year’s students will even be able to enjoy the recently approved student radio tower.
What incoming freshmen will not be able to enjoy is quality advising. The record-size freshmen class can only exacerbate the current problem of month-long waits for appointments with overworked advisors. If UW wants to maintain its 75 percent graduation rate or end the historically popular 5-year UW college career, it must address one of UW’s chronic problems: an inadequate advising system.
The largest class in history will be entering UW just as statewide budgets tighten, potentially giving UW tuition coffers a healthy infusion (a convenient fact admissions officers swear is entirely accidental). In welcoming so many more students to campus, UW administrators should devote a significant portion of the additional tuition money to increasing the number of advisors. Being away from home for the first time is challenge enough. To ask students to plan the rest of their lives on their own is inexcusable.
One could also question whether diversity is a draw for UW. While it is doubtful that the doctored photo on last year’s admissions booklet contributed to UW’s recruiting, there is no question the size of this year’s class adds another challenge to UW’s minority retention efforts.
The admissions office has yet to release statistics on the ethnic makeup of this year’s class. But even if the class includes a large percentage of minorities (a fact that would pleasantly shock us), the larger challenge for UW will be retaining minority students. It is time for the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs to earn his recent pay raise and ensure the $25 million spent annually on diversity programs results in not only increased enrollment of students of color, but increased retention.