Last winter, some friends and I were discussing the condition of the University. As second-semester freshmen, barely done with our first Blue Book exams, we felt we had a pretty good grasp of what this place is all about.

“You know, the problem here is the number of students. There are just too many people at this university,” my friend would explain with all the cockiness of a college freshman. That argument never made sense to me. Some lecture halls are big — I get that. And, surely, anyone who has had to catch a bus to North Campus understands what it means to be on the front lines of the University’s population problem.

But the argument that equates more people with a lesser education has never meshed with me. So, when the University released its admissions statistics last week, I was again forced to consider what an increasing student population means for us Wolverines. And I’ve concluded that some maize-and-blue faithful are simply losing sight of the mission of the University.

It was former University President James B. Angell who proudly proclaimed that here you will find “an uncommon education for the common man.” Yet in an age where higher education has been permeated with elitism, some have lost sight of this revolutionary dogma.

While researching this piece, I stumbled upon the website CollegeConfidential.com. Here, students from across the country discuss topics pertaining to their universities. In response to the increased acceptance rate, Michigan students were fuming. “Michigan should be more selective,” wrote one. “I’m kind of embarrassed,” vented another.

This, sadly, seems to be the norm in response to the 6,350-person incoming class. There exists a belief within the halls of our University that more students means inferior teaching, a lesser education and a generally less prestigious institution. This leaves me wondering what happened to the days of James Angell when the ideal was providing a world-class education to everyone.

Since its inception nearly 200 years ago, the University has been a beacon of progress. The fact that the University admitted 300 students more than last year is neither an effect of the state’s economic recession nor a sign of declining standards. Rather, as the world continues to battle an economic recession, the Gulf Coast still fights to protect its livelihood against the greatest oil spill in history and the state of Michigan longs to return to days of prosperity and growth, the University is answering the call of a people in need of the leaders and best.

The world today faces big challenges that demand even bigger thinkers and doers. That some seek to restrict University officials eager to send the best and brightest into the fray in the name of appearing more selective to the U.S. News and World Report college rankings is naïve. This increase in students is not a money grab for our University, nor is it a sign of diminishing standards. Quite the opposite — when the world says “we need more help,” the University calls in the cavalry.

Some will argue that as enrollment numbers rise, the amount of individual attention in the classroom will diminish. Sure, this makes sense on the surface — more students equals less personal connection. But I’m here to make a different argument: Easy personal attention is a detriment to higher education. Anyone who has taken Orgo or Great Books knows that hand-holding is not an option here.

This “sink or swim” mentality has caused some to label the University “too competitive.” But to many students’ surprise, come graduation, there is no hand-holding. You either find a job or you don’t. There’s no 5:1 ratio of graduates to mentors who will help you navigate. At the University, you learn how to survive, sometimes against all odds. You learn to seek help on your own, discover your own answers and develop the skills necessary to thrive when the safety net is gone. For some, this increase in students will hurt. But for those who want to explore and discover through their own initiative, this change will hardly be noticed.

This is no Mickey Mouse institution. Wolverines have become captains of industry and president of the United States. We developed the polio vaccine and revolutionized investigative journalism. We have stormed the gridiron and lit up Broadway. From the silver screen to the Supreme Court, Wolverines have been leading the world forward for nearly two centuries. Let us embrace this incoming class of freshmen — the largest in the University’s history. Today, perhaps more than ever, the world needs Wolverines.

Tyler Jones can be reached at tylerlj@umich.edu.

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