CMU attracting students with better grades, test scores

Meredith Terrell, left, and her sister, Kately Grube, study at the student center on Colorado Mesa University campus.

Students new to Colorado Mesa University this fall are better prepared for college course work than past classes, according to the school’s president.

Census data taken earlier this month show the portion of first-time Colorado Mesa students with an ACT college-entrance exam score of 24 or above, out of a possible 36 points, increased by 30 percent compared to last year’s first-time students.

In addition, 25.7 percent more students entering Colorado Mesa this year had a high school grade-point average of 3.5 or above compared with last year’s freshmen.

The total number of first-time students grew by 11.6 percent in the same time frame.

President Tim Foster said the university actively recruited students with better scores through calls, text messages and emails, and it offered them the chance to register sooner than other students. The school wants more prepared students because it can lead to a better educational experience and discourage students from dropping out, Foster said.

“With better-prepared students, the discourse is better in class, the quality of instruction is better because you can go through more topics,” Foster said. “As that happens, retention goes up, and graduation rates go up.”

Brittney Barks, a Colorado Mesa sophomore, said she noticed a slight change in the discourse in her classes, with more students raising their hands and asking questions.

Colorado Mesa senior Cooper Hearne said the school’s switch to a university title may have helped attract some talented first-year students, but he hasn’t noticed a big change in the student body.

“You don’t really notice walking around campus that people are smarter,” he said.

Barry Laga, head of the university’s English department, said it may take a few years to see a noticeable difference from the higher ACT score trend and the lure of a university name for certain students.

“I think it’s too soon to ask that question, and I don’t see much evidence of it yet,” he said.

If the university starts to step back from the double-digit growth it has experienced in the last few years, Foster said, the school will prioritize enrolling students from in and around Mesa County over enrolling students with the best high school performance records. However, some of those regional students may have to start at Western Colorado Community College. Foster said the university’s trustees likely will discuss increasing admission standards this year, but the community college will maintain open enrollment.

“It isn’t either-or. It becomes: You go through this door or this door, and if you do well at the community college, you can transfer to the university,” Foster said.

Foster said a six-student increase to 30 students with an ACT score of 12 or below this year compared to last year is likely a reflection of enrollment at the community college, which is included in the census data, along with numbers from CMU’s Grand Junction and Montrose campuses.

The data also show a 27.4 percent increase year-over-year in minority-student enrollment in the Colorado Mesa system and a flip in the two-year trend of the schools enrolling more men than women in the first-year class.

This year’s first-year class is 50.4 percent female and 49.6 percent male, compared to 51.9 percent male and 48.1 percent female last year.

Those numbers happened naturally, according to Foster, who said the university does not recruit based on gender or ethnicity.

Colorado Mesa counted 8,844 students this fall, up from 7,751 in fall 2010. All but 60 of the students counted this fall are undergraduates, 416 are high school students, and 113 are not seeking degrees.

Bachelor’s degrees are being pursued by 5,951 students, 2,095 students are seeking associate’s degrees, and 191 are pursuing certificates.

Nearly 12 percent of undergraduates are from outside Colorado, three-tenths of a percent are from outside the United States, and 45.4 percent are from Mesa County.


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