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June 21, 2007

Survey shows progress at ULM

The news must have gone down as smoothly as a Starbucks cappuccino.

Students at the University of Louisiana at Monroe have ranked their school above the national average in the 2007 ACT Satisfaction Survey. ULM has seen a gradual increase in its score since 2002, when Jim Cofer became president, from 3.26 to this year's 3.99 out of 5.0. The national average was 3.93.

The scores reflect the school's renaissance since Cofer arrived.

When Cofer first stepped foot on the ULM campus, it was a hodgepodge of architectural design. The dormitories were obsolete. Classroom buildings were shopworn, badly in need of painting. The campus seemed settled in a malaise. Few students spoke proudly of attending ULM; in some cases, it was the university of default: affordable and close by.

Under Cofer, the campus has been abuzz with new construction and new ideas. A new, cohesive look mirroring the new library gives a sense of identity and purpose. ULM finally looks like a campus. Existing buildings were painted often with faculty and staff volunteering the labor.

Students applauded new residence halls and eateries, computer services, social events and recreation. Other areas obtaining high marks include job placement services, food, availability of advisers and preparation for future employment.

A new speaker program has offered the likes of Bill Cosby, Robert Kennedy Jr., Ben Stein, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Steve Forbes. Students attended for free.

A change in the school's mascot, ordained by the NCAA, generated healthy community involvement and excitement, settling on Warhawks.

ULM is a happening place once again. But the main mission is far from forgotten.

New approaches to preparing students for college, higher entrance standards and a fresh focus on academics are evident. ULM is in the middle of its summer PREP programs, an orientation program for incoming freshmen that includes registration. New academic tutoring programs are in place.

"I want to help every single kid graduate," Cofer said. "That's the most important thing to me. If it means working one-on-one to make it happen, that's what I'll do."

The university is addressing one age-old problem students identified in the survey a lack of parking. An intermodal transit facility is going up and the parking along DeSiard Street is being reworked to increase parking places and safety, but ULM is still largely a commuter campus. Chances are, the campus will never be able to provide enough convenient parking spots to satisfy.

Still, the university should be pleased at the score; it indicates students are enjoying their college experience.

"It's clearly evident that the things faculty and staff are doing are working," Cofer said. "We're where we want to be and headed in the right direction."

The scores prove the point.

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