The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 29, 2012

Growth at the University of Alabama comes with growing pains

Associated Press

The Tuscaloosa News on the growth of the University of Alabama:

When former University of Alabama President Robert Witt announced his ambitious goals for growth nearly 10 years ago, some skeptics didn’t think UA could realize those goals. Fewer people believed that the university could achieve such phenomenal growth without seriously compromising quality. Conventional wisdom was that UA couldn’t attract enough academically talented students to Tuscaloosa.

Interim President Judy Bonner provided information in the semi-annual State of the University address that appears to prove the skeptics wrong. Despite 33 percent enrollment growth since 2006, the academic credentials of students on campus appear to be better.

UA turned away more students than it accepted in the fall of 2011. Back in 2006, it accepted 70 percent of the students that applied. Five years later, that number was down to only 44 percent.

It would be surprising enough that UA accomplished this during a time of economic uncertainty and recession. But tough economic times were coupled with rapidly increasing tuition.

State funding has grown slowly and UA has made up the difference by increasing costs to students and their families.

Growth does not come without growing pains. It is impossible to add that many students to the campus without expanding the infrastructure that supports them. Construction has been constant since Witt set his plan in motion, and it hasn’t stopped yet. Construction does not come cheap, so the university must continue to grow to pay off bonds financing classroom buildings and dormitories. ...

Growth has been good for the university and community, but UA faces new challenges. It must now maintain its larger student body in a time when the college-aged population is growing more slowly. It must find a way to slow the growth of tuition costs so that a University of Alabama education is still within reach of average Alabamians. It must continue to get taxpayer support even while a growing percentage of the student body comes from out-of-state residents who do not pay Alabama taxes.

The university proved that it could grow without sacrificing quality. It must now maintain the gains that it has made.