School identity stretched by growth

Allison Mollenkamp

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In the fall of 2004, The University of Alabama reported “record highs” of enrollment. That year the campus sported just under 21,000 students. This fall, eleven years later, enrollment topped 37,000. With this growth has come a rise in average test scores. In 2005, the middle 50 percent of students scored between a 21 and a 26 on the ACT. The College Board reports the current mid-range of scores to be 22-31. In large part, the growth of the University has been facilitated by scholarships that attract out-of-state students. This year the entire student body of the University is comprised of over 50 percent out-of-state students. 

Fast growth both in students and campus buildings has become normal for the University, but it raises a lot of questions. The numbers change based on which rumors you listen to, but the idea that eventually an enrollment cap will have to be implemented is fairly common. This is purely practical. Eventually, there will not be room for any more students. When this happens, the University will have to make some clear decisions about its purpose. Should we work to gain more and more prestige by recruiting the best and brightest from across the U.S.? What is the obligation to in-state students of a publicly funded university? In my opinion, the basis of all of these decisions should be the identity of The University of Alabama.

Many large public universities, especially those that are well respected academically, have state or University enforced enrollment minimums for in-state students. This goes along with the idea that because these universities are funded by tax dollars, the children of those taxpayers should always have a place at the university. These minimums can come in the form of percentages, but in some cases, such as in Texas, they come in the form of guaranteed acceptance to a top percentage of the state’s students. For Texas overall, this means the top 10 percent of high school seniors are guaranteed acceptance to a public university in the state. What this leads to is that The University of Texas at Austin comes in at 95 percent in-state students. They’re also a bit more selective than the University is at the moment. This is one path that the University could go down. Exponential growth leads to laws about enrollment, which leads to greater prestige and competition for spots.

A sophomore here at the University and an Alabama native told me she thinks “…the University should keep itself, as a whole, at least 50 percent in-state because it is a state school.” This would be much less restrictive than the Texas law, but might over time increase the prestige of those 50 percent out-of-state spots, especially if the high level of scholarships continue. For me, this raises the most important question of enrollment at the University. How will growth and potential enrollment caps affect the identity of The University of Alabama?

For me, one of the most special things about the University is that it has the best of two worlds. Especially within the Honors College, there is a high level of academic excellence here. People seek to succeed and be the best of their field. At the same time, however, the atmosphere is one of support and academic camaraderie rather than competition. People are rooting for their peers as much as for themselves. I hope that as the University changes and grows, the importance of that positivity is not forgotten. As we gain prestige and name recognition, we should not forget what as made us great.

As an out of state student, of course, I hope that as we preserve our identity, there remain spots for those from across the country. UA has given me a myriad of new opportunities, and I hope that they are available to those who come after me. 

Allison Mollenkamp is a sophomore majoring in English and theatre. Her column runs biweekly.