August 21, 2019

First-year cohort is the largest, most diverse and most academically prepared to attend university to date

When Tucson native Sadie Azersky started exploring colleges, she set her sights on attending a school that would challenge her.

She found what she was looking for at Arizona State University: the opportunities of a large research university combined with the intimate setting of Barrett, The Honors College. She starts classes Thursday.  

"I'm able to have those big-school-type of experiences ... but also have a smaller-school environment at the same time, a community that's more accessible," said the music theory and composition major and President's Scholar, who said she is also drawn to the interdisciplinary opportunities offered by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Azersky is just one of nearly 14,000 first-year students stepping foot on an Arizona State University campus this fall, the largest, most diverse and most academically prepared class to attend the university to date.

That’s a 10% increase in the size of ASU’s first-year class compared with last year. And it comes at a time when enrollment in colleges and universities around the country is actually declining, distinguishing ASU as a success story amid an otherwise unfortunate national trend.

“We have put significant effort into improving the college attendance rate in the state of Arizona, and our 2019 enrollment growth is a reflection of that commitment and of our demonstrated high-quality of educational outcomes at an affordable cost,” said Mark Searle, ASU’s executive vice president and university provost.

Arizona residents constitute about 8,600 students in the first-year class, and California students make up an additional 1,400. Those are increases of 7% and 8%, respectively.

The demand for higher education in the state of Arizona and the desire by students from out of state to come to ASU to study has driven the total university enrollment up nearly 8% this fall. There are now nearly 119,000 undergraduate and graduate students attending the university this semester. ASU is serving more nontraditional students, many seeking out ASU Online degrees for the flexibility to meet life and work demands.

The incoming first-year class is the most academically talented to ever be admitted to ASU. The average SAT score for first-year students increased five points over last year, and about 55% of the class earned one of the university's top three academic scholarships, collectively called the New American University Scholarships. Of the Arizona resident first-year students, 58% received a New American University Scholarship, and the majority of students receiving a coveted Flinn Scholarship — a merit-based scholarship for Arizona students to attend an Arizona university — chose to come to ASU.

RELATED: ASU a top producer of students who win Fulbright awards

ASU has also seen an increase in first-year enrollment from families with lower to moderate income levels. A deep and sustained commitment to accessibility and affordability for Arizona resident students, demonstrated by family and student outreach programs and access to financial aid, has led to a 10% increase in enrollment of students from families earning below $40,000 per year.

Once they’re here, the university dedicates vast efforts and resources to ensure students are successful. And it’s having an effect. The number of students returning to ASU this fall for their second year is also higher than at any time in the past. That so-called “one-year retention rate,” which measures students who stay at the university after their first year, is an important predictor of eventually earning a degree. ASU’s retention rate is nearly 86% overall, and nearly 88% for Arizona resident students.

Those resources are what drew Catherine Nunez to ASU. The National Hispanic Scholar from La Grange Park, Illinois, wanted not just a stellar engineering program but a place she felt wanted.

"The school really had the support and attention that I needed," said Nunez, who had looked into a big-name program in a neighboring state but said she hadn't felt welcome there. "I feel like I was wanted (at ASU), like I would be cared for here and have access to the resources I need."

The Barrett honors student will study biomedical engineering with the goal of working in the neuroscience field. And it wasn't just the university's academic prowess that drew her, but its mission of inclusion.

"We are defined by who we include, not who we exclude," said Nunez, echoing the words of the ASU charter, "and given all these choices of elite schools that only accept X percentage of kids, I think it's really important to include everyone. ... Everyone really does offer their own special thing, and recognizing that is something ASU does well."

Video: Where do ASU students come from? Everywhere

By Linda Nguyen

More facts about ASU:

  • The university offers students more than 350 undergraduate majors and 450 graduate degree and certificate programs, including the newly launched disability studies bachelor's degree and the stackable online master's degree in supply chain management in collaboration with MIT.
  • Of full-time first-year students, 162 are veteran or active-duty military, a 14% increase over fall 2018. For all years, there are 9,063 military-affiliated students enrolled at ASU campuses and ASU Online, 9% more than last year.
  • The number of students transferring to the university is up 2.9%
  • Students who are in the first generation in their family to attend college make up 29% of the first-year class
  • Enrollment of international first-year and transfer students is up 19%.

During their first week on campus, Sun Devils are immersed in the philanthropic culture of the university and all the opportunities available to become involved. Passport to ASU, a Welcome Week event, featured more than 500 student clubs and organizations. Sun Devils can get involved with an existing organization or create one of their own. 

New this year is a redesigned Sun Devil Sync where students can find clubs, organizations and student events, and it allows students to track their involvement.

MORE: New students get schooled in spirit at Sun Devil Welcome

Top photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now