On the first day of class, the University of Arizona welcomes approximately 9,600 new-to-campus undergraduates who represent a diverse and academically accomplished group.
Among the almost 7,200 new UA freshmen beginning this fall, more than 4,300 are Arizona residents and nearly 1,800 are transfer students.
In addition, more than 600 former students have re-enrolled to obtain their degrees, and early indicators suggest first-to-second year retention is on the rise for the second consecutive year.
The new freshman class is slightly smaller this year compared to 7,401 at census date last year, an expected change based on smaller populations of high school graduates and increased requirements for international applicants.
Student diversity among new UA freshmen is 41.3 percent for 2013, topping 40 percent for the first time, and up 2.1 percent from 2012, according to preliminary figures. And among the transfer students, diversity jumped 2.2 percent in one year, reaching 44.9 percent.
"I was pleased to see that we’re attracting strong students from across Arizona and the world. Our goal is to enroll students who are prepared for the rigor of a University of Arizona education, yet bring to campus a variety of experiences and backgrounds," said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. "Our relationships with Arizona’s community colleges make higher education more affordable and accessible for many and increasing retention keeps more students on track to graduate."
The UA Honors College saw an increase in the average SAT score – 1321, up from 1307 in 2012.
"This is an impressive one-year jump and reflects the quality students our Honors College attracts,” said Kasey Urquidez, the UA associate vice president for Student Affairs and the undergraduate admissions dean.
The Honors College also saw a slight increase in the average GPA of its nearly 900 students – now at 3.82.
The UA saw increases in student enrollment from 17 states, especially California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington and Georgia.
Georgia resident Sarah Ruth Merrigan had the option to attend other institutions, including Georgia Institute of Technology, but chose the UA largely because of its strong medical program and Honors College.
"When I came for a visit, there were a lot of people willing to help me and who made me feel at home," said Merrigan, an Honors College freshman studying engineering who wants to pursue graduate studies in either biomedical engineering or biosystems engineering. "I really like the opportunities here, whether it is study abroad or extra classes I can take."
The UA also has redoubled efforts to help community college and other transfer students transition to the University.
Most recent is the newly launched UABridge program, which aids in higher education access and affordability, providing community college students support prior to their UA studies. Current partners are Pima Community College, Mohave Community College and the Maricopa County Community College District, with more forthcoming.
"By next year, we expect to offer UABridge programs in every community college in Arizona," Urquidez said, noting that it is crucial to support Arizona transfer students as some intend to return to their home communities after graduating.
Transfer student and All-Arizona Academic Team Scholarship recipient Aaron Pressley chose the UA because of its campus community, support and the unique Philosophy, Politics, Economics, & Law program.
"I feel that I am adequately prepared for the University and don’t think I will be too overwhelmed," said Pressley, who transferred from Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC). "My expectations are very high. I want to go to graduate school, and I think through the University I will have all the tools I need to do what I want and to stay focused."
Aspiring to public office, Pressley was president of the Student Honors Advisory Council at PVCC, the type of leadership role many others in the incoming class took on.
New UA students include nationally competitive scholarship recipients and students who have been involved in a range of activities, such as student council, sports, band, Junior League and honors societies. Others were regular volunteers at food banks, shelters and hospitals.
One new freshman, Gina Valencia, a graduate of Tucson's Sunnyside High School, served as a student leader in her high school by helping other seniors gain access to higher education. She helped students apply for admission and financial aid, created a "Wall of Fame" in the school’s cafeteria to showcase admission acceptance letters and even had her own office to advise students. Valencia will be working for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions this year and continuing her outreach work.
The number of new international students is lower this year due to an increase in the UA English-language proficiency requirement. The University offered 375 international students conditional enrollment provided they take courses at the Center for English as a Second Language. They will join the university in the spring, following course completion. Incoming international student numbers for Fall 2013 are 406, compared to 508 last year.
"We are building a wonderful pipeline of better prepared international students through our partnership with CESL," Urquidez said.
The UA also saw increased enrollment from 36 Arizona high schools, especially those in Maricopa and Santa Cruz Counties. Also, more students came from Rio Rico and Nogales high schools near the U.S.-Mexico border and Baboquivari High School on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation in Sells, Ariz. In 2011 and 2012 combined, UA enrolled one student from Baboquivari High School. This year, eight students are beginning their freshman year, including one who is a Gates Millennium Scholar.
Such enrollments are especially important to Arizona, as the state works to expand access to academic degrees in rural communities.
Urquidez credits other institutional programs and initiatives that have aided in improvements around student access and success.
The web-based Degree Search enables students to explore a major and even explore possible careers before they declare their degree program. Also, Degree Tracker enables UA students to track, credit-by-credit, their program requirements over the course of their academic careers after they have chosen a major.
"Degree Search and Degree Tracker are very important. We want every student connected and informed so they earn their degrees in four years, or two years for transfers," Urquidez said.
Urquidez noted that such tools are crucial to helping students graduate on time, saving students and families money.
"We are recruiting students to graduate and become 'Wildcats for Life,' to become alumni and contribute to our society and the economy," she said. "We have dedicated and focused efforts to help students get acclimated to campus and find their fit from day one."