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Westminster's class is its most diverse yet

Students who began classes at Westminster College on Wednesday hailed from 33 different states and 24 countries, making up not only the school's largest-ever class, but also its most geographically diverse.

"Living in Utah but coming from San Francisco, it's hard to find much diversity," said Westminster freshman Amy Arburn. "However, the second you step on Westminster's campus, it's almost like you're out of state."

Arburn is among 42 percent of the 472 new freshmen who hail from outside of Utah or the United States. The class of 2013 joined 2,200 undergraduates and 850 graduates already on campus, increasing the total enrollment to more than 3,000 students, Westminster's highest enrollment ever.

Officials also are quite proud of the incoming students' academic accomplishments, as the newest class includes nearly a dozen high school valedictorians. The average GPA is well above the national average for high school seniors, a 3.49 on the common 4.0 scale.

The majority of this year's students are female, making up 54 percent of the newcomers. Ninety-eight percent of them collect some sort of financial aid, including scholarships, loans and grants, with the average amount being around $21,400.

Earlier this year, the school offered an incentive to waive the difference between state school tuition and Westminster tuition, which in some cases tops $9,000.

That initiative could be to thank for a portion of the increased freshman response, as well as the current economic turbulence that is filling college campuses nationwide, but Westminster officials still believe it is the uniqueness of their school, the location and the increasing diversity that has everything to do with bringing in the numbers, according to spokeswoman Krista DeAngelis.

"I came to Westminster for its diverse community, small classes and for teachers who really care about teaching," Arburn said. The mileage between Salt Lake City and her native Northern California city doesn't mean as much, she said, when the trade-off is so good.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com