Making the Grade

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With our nation’s economy continuing its pendulum swing between recession and recovery, it’s no wonder that today’s college students are concerned about how much weight their degree will carry in tomorrow’s job market.

As a result, obtaining a top-quality education isn’t the only priority on Generation Y’s academic agenda; they’re also actively seeking out institutions that, through a combination of state-of-the-art facilities, services and on-campus amenities, can provide the most bang for their collegiate buck.

High-profile publications like U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review have given USD favorable reviews for academic programs and overall appeal, but the best metric of the university’s success has been, and always will be, student satisfaction.

And so comes the big question: Is USD making the grade?

According to – a popular online college guide and review site written by students for students – the University of San Diego rates at or near the top of the list of local universities in terms of campus housing (Grade: A), and more than holds its own in other pertinent categories such as facilities (B+) and campus dining (B+). In addition, reports USD to have earned an overall grade of B+ along with a nearly 80 percent approval rating among students polled.

That kind of positive feedback comes as no surprise to Vice President of University Relations Timothy O’Malley, who cites USD’s commitment to providing a well-rounded college experience as a primary reason why the university remains at the vanguard of Catholic higher education.

“First and foremost, we’re in the business of educating, but we’re also looking to provide students 21st century amenities and heighten their overall college experience,” he explains.

Alcalá Park’s breathtaking beauty and idyllic location have long been the foundation of the university’s appeal to prospective students, but new additions since the beginning of the millennium demonstrate USD’s commitment to upgrading and expanding campus facilities.

The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice has helped the university become a leader of educational institutions seeking to provide peacebuilding solutions to conflicts around the world. Mother Rosalie Hill Hall houses the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, which has earned national recognition for its leadership and nonprofit academic programs. The Donald P. Shiley Center for Science and Technology provides state-of-the-art research and teaching facilities for the departments of biology, chemistry, physics and marine science and environmental studies.

The allure of learning from world-renowned faculty in top-tier academic facilities has kept USD admissions counselors on their toes (well over 12,000 freshman applied for about 1,150 undergraduate openings in the Fall 2010 semester), but retaining students is the name of the game. The answer, O’Malley knows, is to provide Toreros with what they need, when they need it.

“From a 30,000-foot level, we’re looking at developing a distinguished student experience,” he says. “To provide that means delivering more than qualified and competent teaching. It means developing facilities – residential and recreational along with academic – that support our students’ development in these formative years.”

The construction of amenity-laden campus housing complexes such as Manchester Village has been essential to serving the needs of a growing student population, while the opening of the Jenny Craig Pavilion has ushered in a new and exciting era for Torero athletics.

And then, of course, there’s the Student Life Pavilion.

Replete with just about every modern convenience one could ask for, the four-story, 50,000 square-foot award-winning facility is modern innovation at its finest, and the main reason O’Malley feels students are dev-eloping an even stronger connection with USD.

“The Student Life Pavilion is essentially the social and activity hub for the entire campus,” he offers. “I think it’s also helping develop a campus identity that will resonate with our students now and in the future.”

While approval ratings may be soaring, USD administration continues to raise the bar. For O’Malley, the key to the university’s continued success is simple: “We need to keep asking ourselves one simple question: what more can we do to enhance the student experience?” — Mike Sauer