The faculty greeted its first class in 1879 with formal ceremonies to welcome six students, although 16 students matriculated over the next several weeks. All but two of the first class were native Arkansans. They were a diverse group with ages ranging from 18 to 39 and with backgrounds from extensive previous medical experience to none. And so each year following, the student body increased steadily.
At many times, the most obvious sign of growth for the College of Medicine was the size of the student body. Improving the standing of the medical school had a great effect on the student body. These increases were driven by a physician deficit in both Arkansas and the nation. The student body increased steadily until 1890 when 113 matriculated.
In the academic year 1927-1928, 135 students matriculated. That number increased to 201 by 1934, and later when the new education building was occupied, enrollment reached 290. This increase was also welcomed by the administration, for tuition and fees were paid by the students and became essential to the school’s operation. In-state tuition and fees averaged $110 in 1928, $160 in 1931, $187 in 1933, $230 in 1936 and $275 in 1938.
After World War II, a larger student body, a growing full-time faculty and many new programs, gradually led to the concept of still another building plan that would create remarkable growth. Enrollments and graduates also expanded perceptibly during the 1960s. A new law was implemented that permitted the admission of non-residents of up to 15 percent of the total freshman class. The first 75 admitted were still allocated among Arkansas’ congressional districts on the basis of population. Before this revision to the law, the School of Medicine was forced to admit inadequately prepared students because of a statute restricting entering freshmen to Arkansas residents. This also solved the problem of 20 percent freshmen not being promoted to sophomore year. By the end of the decade, only five percent failed to be promoted to their second year.
Another significant development was the increasing number of African-Americans in the student body. Between 1948 and 1974, with the exception of one year, one to three black students had been admitted to each freshman class. A record 14 African-Americans were admitted in 1974 in part due to the Office of Minority Student Affairs that contributed to recruiting efforts.
To meet the needs of the state, admission of larger classes to the College of Medicine was deemed key in the early 1970s. A total of 121 students were admitted to the freshman class in 1972 and 136 in 1977.
Today, the College of Medicine continues to play a lead role in producing physicians for the state. Health care professional shortages are projected to worsen in the coming years, and academic health centers and training programs across the nation are working to develop strategies to increase the supply for the future. Since 2009, the College of Medicine has admitted 174 students to each year’s freshman class.