Temple’s recent academic improvements are under fire. Many in the Philadelphia area are concerned that the university’s improving academic reputation conflicts with its traditional mission to educate students from Philadelphia.
Temple has been historically respected for its diversity, and its open-enrollment policy has allowed it to award degrees to one out of every eight college graduates in the area. Some, however, have credited lax admission standards with creating a bleak reputation for the university in the academic world.
Reporter Mike Benner described the reputation Temple earned over the past few decades in the March 2005 issue of The Philadelphia Weekly: “They accept anyone. It’s mostly local kids who didn’t get accepted to any other schools. The buildings are old and ugly. It’s in the ‘hood. The sports teams suck.”
Writer Bruce Buschel painted a similar picture of Temple in the August 2005 issue of Philadelphia Magazine: “Temple University is like a great big lovable state-sponsored hooker: cheap, easy to get into, and offering any avenue of study you desire. All you have to do is give up football and eat meals from a truck.”
But, as Benner goes on to say in his story, “all this is changing.”
According to Benner’s story and other reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Magazine, Temple’s transformation from accepting almost anyone to enrolling a freshman class with an average high school GPA of 3.29 began in 2000 when Dr. David Adamany took over as university president.
Since 1998, Temple’s enrollment has increased from 27,157 to a present total of 34,000 students.
This year 17,000 applicants competed for the 4,000 available spots in the 2005 freshman class.
The university is developing a General Education program, which will offer what the faculty hopes are interesting and engaging course topics, and that will aim at creating common learning experiences among Temple’s increasingly competitive and academically adept students.
The university has also hired a total of 110 tenured and tenure-track faculty since 2004 and has authorized 86 searches for new faculty for 2006-07.
Temple’s traditional “commuter” campus is getting a makeover too. The university has invested millions of dollars in construction projects such as the new Student Center addition, making the campus more resident-friendly than ever.
Temple’s changes are not going unnoticed.
“I consider Temple to be one of the most interesting stories in the area and perhaps nationally,” said Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Patrick Kerkstra. “Temple is a key institution in the region. It’s changing more rapidly than any other institution that I cover.”
Temple’s Chief Information Officer Mark Eyerly said the university’s changing image is a matter of appearance catching up with reality.
“There’s a buzz in higher education about the advancements Temple is making,” Eyerly said. “Temple’s image was outdated. … Clearly across the university there is an effort to get the message out about Temple’s diversity, access to quality education, improved academic rigor, aggressive faculty recruitment, and residential environment. We want [everybody] to be aware of the changes we are making here.”
While Temple’s peers and Philadelphia media are noticing and often praising Temple’s improvements, some – including Temple insiders – are criticizing the university for turning away students it would have traditionally accepted.
In the June 5 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kerkstra reported that Temple is “whiter, wealthier and more suburban than ever.” He also reported that percentages of minority students at Temple have decreased in the past 10 years.
Yet President Adamany leads administrators in arguing that Temple’s higher academic standards do not mean the university is turning its back on its historic mission.
“We are still ‘Diversity University,'” he wrote in a letter published in the Philadelphia Weekly in response to Kerkstra’s article. “Temple has not abandoned disadvantaged minority students.”
Temple is ranked second for diversity in the 2006 Edition of The Best 361 Colleges, published by The Princeton Review, and in the top five for degrees awarded to blacks, according to Diverse – Issues in Higher Education.
According to Eyerlym, Temple is “maintaining diversity.” He said the percentage of minority students has decreased slightly because of increased enrollment of both white and non-white students, but the university is still “educating more minority students than five years ago.”
Eyerly also pointed out that Temple makes “an aggressive recruiting effort in the city” and among minority groups. The university has dual admissions agreements with five community colleges, guaranteeing admission to students who earn associate degrees with a minimum grade point average of 2.3 as well. More than 9,000 students have signed dual admissions participation forms since the program started in 1997.
Lindsey Walker can be reached at email@example.com.