Entering freshman are University’s best-prepared class

by Josh Linehan

They’ve never known life without NutraSweet, personal computers, Bart Simpson or a woman on the Supreme Court. Now the children of the 1980s are the Class of 2003 and the University’s best-ever academic freshman class.
Class representatives were presented to the Board of Regents last Friday and were praised for their high school class rankings — up half a percent from last year’s freshmen — and the high numbers living in University housing.
This year, the 5,150 freshmen have an average high school rank of 76 percent, up a half percent from last year. In addition, more than three quarters of this year’s class reside in University housing, a jump of 4 percent from last year.
Wayne Sigler, director of University Admissions, said the recruitment reflected an overall increase in University quality of life.
“We have worked and are working hard to be cutting edge and state of the art, but our primary interest is not recruiting but the University itself,” Sigler said.
The University feels it can raise its freshman-to-sophomore retention rates by recruiting high-level students and encouraging them to live in the dorms.
“It’s important, especially at a University this size, to develop and enhance a sense of community,” Sigler said. “That is much easier to do when first year students live in residence halls.”
The concept of recruiting high-level students and encouraging residential life has worked so far, with sophomore retention rates up 3 percent from 1996 to 1997.
“The national average for retention rates of Ph.D.-granting public universities is 76 percent, and we are well above that at 84.6 percent for 1997,” Sigler said.
Darien Johnson, a freshman in journalism from North Minneapolis, was one of those presented to the Regents. He said the accolades were nice, but his class had much work to do to live up to the praise.
“Statistics are fine, but I don’t put much emphasis on them,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do to graduate, and I can’t rest on that.”
Johnson is living in the dorms this fall, even though living at home was an option.
“I knew I was going to stay in the city, but I didn’t really want to live at home. I’d heard the dorms were a good place to meet people,” Johnson said.
Derek Barraza, a Carlson School of Management freshman, said the rankings present a challenge to his entire class.
“If it’s true that we are the best prepared class in history, we have a lot to accomplish in the next four years,” Barraza said.