Steve is like many University of Utah students. He came from California to attend the U after falling in love with Utah during family ski vacations in Park City. Because he wanted to meet new people, he decided to live on campus his freshman year and has stayed in residential living ever since. He is still undecided on a major, but isn’t worried because his parents help pay most of his college expenses and aren’t rushing him. Steve learned about student leadership opportunities early on and is very active on campus—he would never miss a Ute athletic event. He believes the adage that college is the best time of your life and plans to make the most of it.
Anna is also a typical U of U student. She has lived in Sandy all her life and graduated with honors from Brighton High School. Anna is a sophomore and hopes to be admitted to the Eccles School of Business next year to complete her major in marketing. Because she is paying her own way through college and wants to graduate as quickly as possible, Anna carries a full academic load and tries to schedule all of her classes in the morning to accommodate her 40-hour-a-week job. She rides TRAX to the campus every morning and leaves just as soon as she can to get to work or home to help out her large family. She rarely attends plays, football games, or other events on campus because she is just too busy.
Think you know a lot about the University student experience? You might want to think again.
Today’s college students, nationally and at the University of Utah, are an increasingly diverse group. Many people are surprised to learn that only about half of the students who enter the U each fall come in as freshmen; the other half attended some other institution before transferring here. Though the U has a reputation as a commuter school, it actually has a very large on-campus population. The average age of our students is around 27, which is close to the national average. Research shows that U of U students work at their jobs more than other college students, have greater family responsibilities, and are less likely to seek the support of University programs and services.
The U mirrors several national trends. Our students have increasing expectations of the university experience as an investment and demand more of their education; they are adept at multiple forms of technology; and they are more likely to be concurrently enrolled at more than one institution. There really is no such thing as an entering or graduating class cohort anymore, so the University must interact with each student individually to be sure she or he doesn’t get lost in the college maze.
For the past several years, the U has been working hard to address the issue of building community on campus. Our sense is that each student needs (and wants!) to be connected through various academic programs, student activities, fraternity or sorority membership, or on-campus housing. A growing number of students are engaged in undergraduate research, intramural sports, the fine arts, and athletics. Twenty percent of U of U students participate in service activities at the Bennion Center, ranked sixth in the country for its service- learning programs. These students are taking responsibility for their own active learning, both inside and outside the classroom.
So what is the University of Utah student experience? It’s students vying for scholarships, spending semesters abroad, interning at government offices, enrolling in challenging seminars, searching for work-study opportunities, cheering on the football or soccer teams, and spending evenings in the library.
In short, it’s just what students make it. And the possibilities are endless.
—Barbara Snyder is vice president for student affairs at the
University of Utah.