The 2001-2002 academic year began last month, and the transition from the summer routine to the busy fall academic calendar was the smoothest I have ever seen.
Although August 20 was the first day of classes, the new semester really begins in earnest about a week earlier when members of the entering freshman class start arriving for Boiler Gold Rush. BGR -- as the students call it -- is a highly effective orientation program that gives the freshmen a head start on campus life. It began as a small experiment in the residence hall system several years ago and has grown steadily in popularity.
More than 3,400 students -- about half the freshman class -- now participate. In addition to becoming familiar with their new campus home, the students participate in activities that provide valuable information on campus safety, cultural diversity and healthy lifestyle choices. By the time classes start, the new students dont feel lost anymore. They are comfortable, confident and ready to concentrate on their studies.
Fall enrollment on the West Lafayette campus has again set a record. The total of 38,208 students is about 340 more than we began the year with last fall. However, despite the increase, we are on target to bring the West Lafayette student population down to a total of about 37,500, including approximately 30,300 undergraduates.
Although overall enrollment has risen, the size of the freshman class has dropped. First-year students this fall total 6,870 -- down by design for the second year in a row, from a peak of 7,341 in 1999. In fact, most of the increase this fall is in graduate students -- also one of our goals. During the next few years, the larger undergraduate classes will earn their degrees, and enrollment will stabilize at the target level.
The target is not picked randomly, of course. We have determined that 37,500 students -- with 30,300 to 30,400 undergraduates -- is the maximum the West Lafayette campus can sustain while delivering the best education possible. This is based on the capacity of our infrastructure -- classrooms, laboratories, computers, living space -- and the size of faculty and staff.
Because the demand for Purdue programs is at an all-time high, the University is becoming more selective, and this has resulted in a freshman class that has the best cumulative academic record in the Universitys history.
The average SAT score of this freshman group is 1,134. This is up five points from the record level of last year and up 39 points from five years ago. Thats a very significant increase, especially when we recognize that nationally this average has changed very little during the same period.
All the other standard indicators of excellence have gone up as well. We have significant increases in the numbers of National Merit Scholars and high school class valedictorians. The number of applications received has gone up by 28 percent over the last five years. Consequently, the number of applicants who are denied admission is increasing as well -- from about 1,200 in 1996 to 4,100 this year.
This greater selectivity means that our students will enjoy an increasingly stimulating and challenging academic environment. It also means that young people who aspire to a Purdue education must prepare well and apply early. More than 90 percent of the applications for this years freshman class had been processed by January, and enrollment to all schools had closed by March 1.
All of this adds up to a strong upward trend for the Universitys academic excellence, and an additional bright spot is that the new freshman class also includes strong increases in all categories of minority students. One of our goals is to achieve greater diversity in the student body. Increases of more than 10 percent in both African-American and Hispanic freshmen are especially encouraging because they come at a time when admissions standards are going up.
In all respects, the new academic year is off to a terrific start.
Im forced to end this letter on a sad note. Dr. Varro Tyler passed away on August 22. Tip -- as he was known to his friends -- was one of the most remarkable individuals in Purdue history. Before giving up his administrative duties, he had served as dean of the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences and as executive vice president for academic affairs. But he was best known for his scholarly accomplishments. A world authority on herbal medicines, he was one of the most-quoted academics in America. His numerous books on the topic will remain popular for years to come.
Tip also was a great teacher and a true gentleman, Purdue will miss him.