Originally created 09/01/02

UGA freshman class lifts school standards



ATHENS, Ga. - Smart. Social. Aggressive. Metro Atlanta. Mostly female. Those are the words University of Georgia freshmen use to describe their fellow first-year classmates.

And while freshmen praise the qualifications of their peers, university officials are touting the class of 2006 as the most academically superior in the university's history.

The average freshman at UGA has a 3.71 high school grade point average and a 1,215 on the SAT. Last year's average GPA was 3.64; the average SAT score was 1,207.

In addition, more than half the students in the freshman class completed the most advanced curriculum at their high school, while 120 students in this year's 4,298-student freshman class ranked first in their high school graduating class.

The state's HOPE scholarship, a lottery-funded program that awards free college tuition to high school graduates with at least a B average, has greatly improved the quality of UGA's freshman classes over the past few years, according to Del Dunn, UGA's vice president for instruction.

"The HOPE scholarship has had an enormous impact in encouraging very highly competitive students from Georgia to stay in the state," Mr. Dunn said. "I think they have found the University of Georgia a very attractive place to go."

Though critics say high school grades have become inflated as high school officials want to maximize the number of their students who qualify for the scholarship, Mr. Dunn said he has seen no evidence that confirms those claims.

Rather, the population boom in Georgia has led to increased competition and therefore higher qualifications, he said.

"Each year, we have between a 5 and 10 percent growth in the number of high school graduates," he said. "If you have a larger number of graduates, with many staying in Georgia ... that's going to drive up your numbers."

Katherine Grimmett, a freshman from Savannah, is a HOPE recipient who plans on going to medical school and is enjoying her freshman seminar on folk music. She likes the "girls on her hall" in her Brumby Hall dormitory and thinks there are many high-achievers among the freshman class.

But the student body, she said, seems to lack geographic diversity - many of the freshmen come from the Atlanta area.

"A lot of people, it seems like they've brought their whole high school with them," she said. "But they don't necessarily stay with them once they're here."

According to Nancy McDuff, UGA's director of admissions, half of UGA freshmen traditionally hail from the Atlanta metro area, but this year's geographic statistic is not ready.

The trends of rising GPAs and SAT scores among freshman classes each year will continue, according to Ms. McDuff, as the recession lingers and the state population grows.

"It's a reflection of supply and demand," she said.