News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


College education not by the numbers

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has a decade-ending goal of fewer undergraduate students, which runs counter to the numbers game at other state colleges and universities.

UAB President Carol Garrison, as expected, is getting opposition for weeding out students who have no business in college, but so far her plan seems to be on track because she's getting past the politics.

The goal for 2010 includes dropping enrollment from 11,441 to 10,500, nearly doubling the number of students who live on campus, raising academic credentials of incoming students, quadrupling the number of honors students and hiking graduation and retention rates.

To do that, UAB must be more selective of the students it admits, which state Sen. John Rogers, who also works at UAB, says will preclude many black students.

He's right, of course, but not because the students are black. It is because too few are taking advanced placement courses designed to prepare them for college.

Where some 50 percent of UAB students today have advanced high school degrees, by decade end that number should almost double to 95 percent.

That presents a major challenge to high schools, particularly in the Birmingham area served heavily by UAB, to overhaul instruction and student expectations.

Ms. Garrison says UAB does students no favor when the university baby-sits them for a couple years before they drop out because they lack the education background to performing well in college.

Reaching the new goal will mean that UAB's admissions standards will exceed those of The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Auburn University, which might spur more healthy competition for higher grades among the state's largest institutions.

Rep. Rogers said he told Ms. Reynolds that UAB can't be a Duke University. But he's wrong. It can be, if Alabama raises its expectations of classroom teachers and students raise expectations of themselves.

UAB is finally doing something about creating the excellence so long talked about in political circles. If the politicians will leave Ms. Garrison alone, UAB's undergraduate school can reach academic par with the medical college.

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