Task force makes recommendations on graduation rates

Graduates

Few actions we could take as a university would benefit students, parents, and the University itself as much as increasing our four-year graduation rate. Timely graduation means a more affordable education for students and their families and would give more students access to a University of Texas education.

Although our four-year graduation rate of 50 percent is the highest of any public university in Texas, we must aspire to more. It is no coincidence that the most prestigious universities also have the highest graduation rates, and if we want to become the best public university in America, we must target this issue.

In September, I asked Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl to head up a task force to recommend ways of increasing four-year graduation to 70 percent in the next five years. The group submitted its report this week, and I thank the members for their hard work and insightful recommendations.

In total, the task force made more than 60 recommendations. Among them:

• Requiring orientation for all incoming first-year students

• Creating an online tool to better allow students and advisors to monitor progress to a degree

• Developing more intervention programs to identify and assist students in academic jeopardy

• Identifying “bottleneck” courses where limited seats can create challenges for students pursuing a required path to graduation

• Helping students commit to a major and avoid adding a second major if requirements cannot be met within four years

• Creating flat-rate summer tuition to encourage students to take a full academic load

• Increasing tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits

Some of these, such as mandatory freshman orientation, will be implemented immediately. Others will need additional input from faculty and staff.

Raising our graduation rates by 20 points in half a decade is an audacious goal. It will require the focused effort of both administrators and students to make it happen. But I’m convinced the benefits will repay the effort many times over.

Thank you for your support in achieving this important goal.

You may read the full report at: http://www.utexas.edu/graduation-rates/

Bill's Signature

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Comments

  1. I started at UT in 1974 and did attend “freshman orientation”. I think I remember a tour of the campus, we did get to stay in a dorm, and we all became very familiar with Scholz Garten. Probably the best result of that was that I had a few friends made during the four days that I could meet at Scholz and try to figure out what was next. Since I was one of those students who had to work full-time and go to school full-time, some sort of meaningful, continuing orientation/mentorship would have saved me from enrolling in multiple “not necessary” classes. I’ve been following the IE Consortium’s mentorship programs with great interest and feel that the successes the students who come through there are experiencing should be considered when looking at implementing any of the task forces’ suggestions. Please refer to this Washington Post article for background: https://​webspace.utexas.edu/​cherwitz/www/ie/​washpost-oped.html

  2. Prez Powers:
    Comments to date speak to graduation rate(s) and curricula. Mine may be more mundane, albeit fundamental.
    Your first comment following enumeration of various task force
    recomendations suggests the designation of a requirement for “…first year
    students'” orientation purposely was not limited to Freshman students. I appplaud that recommendation and urge its implementation.
    After completing two years at Arlington State College, I first visited the Campus in the Summer, 1955 to seek some (any !!) employment for the Fall.. I found the Campus by “driving to the Tower” on Guadulupe from what I later learned was then called the Pflugerville cut-off. I chose UT because I determined it was (probably) the only place I could afford, and the fact there was Law School there, was all I knew about it. I got a definate “maybe” from the Manager of the Commons Cafeteria to bus (brreakfast) tables when school started in September for $.50/hr and all the coffee I could drink. Mission accomplished.
    With accommodations in Cliff Courts, I hit the Campus in September
    to begin completion of my 90 hour requirement for Law School entry. Classified a Junior, I had to be the greenest gourd on Campus. Nobody ever mentioned any orientation, even for Freshman and much less for upperclassmen. Through sympathetic roommates, I eventually learned (some of) the ropes and picked up the rest the hard way.
    On the point of your effort to up the graduation rate, I would have contributed to it as a 3Y Law when I went to the Ofice to register for graduation. Lady asked why I didnt have a BA. I told her I wasn’t there for a BA; that I came for an LLB. She said with all the hours I had, I shoujd have a BA too, and I should go up on the Hill and get it. Sometime later, when I was up there, I did exactly that.
    I say “Hooray” for orientation efforts mandated for “first year” strudents. By the time they decide on their own they need it, it may be too late to take it. Life for an ‘uppoeclassman’ who doesn’t know the difference between a fountain party and happy hour can be difficult.
    Keep up the good work….

  3. Deone Wilihnte says:

    I see a Univ. of Texas panel is concerned about the school’s graduation rate and correctly targets freshman year as a place for improvement. During my freshman year at UT (1979), I had no mentors, no guidance, and no idea of how to handle the college experience, AND received some very bad advice for so-called academic advisors (these “advisors” had me in classes I should NOT have been taking). As a consequence, it took me FIVE years to graduate…but at least I graduated. Many of my classmates did not. To me, the solution is simple….talk with Dr. Richard Cherwitz and expand the Intellectual Entrepreneurism Consortium (IE) so more students can receive the mentoring and guidance that my classmates and I did not get. UT lost too many “Jeremy Lin’s” (undercover talent just needing a chance to shine) during those days…

  4. Debbie Hagen says:

    The first four recommendations address real problems with students being “lost” in the system, or being unable to complete degree requirements because of lack of availability of required coursework, and I support them.

    I do not support the next two recommendations.

    “• making it more difficult for students to change majors after four semesters or add a second
    major unless the requirements can be met within four years”
    “• creating flat-rate summer tuition to encourage students to take more courses”

    Discouraging double-majors and discouraging change of major may make your 4-year statistics better, but is it in the best interest of the student? In a perfect world, we would all know at 17 what we want to do for the rest of our lives and exactly which major would best enable that, and we would all have one and only one academic and vocational passion. But this is not reality. Majors are often highly specialized, and we live in an age when employment opportunities are rapidly changing. Sometimes one or two extra semesters for a double major can significantly increase work opportunities, and certainly allows a student to increase the breadth of their education. Should the University make that option difficult for the sake of a statistic? You seem to (with the next recommendation) promote full time summer attendance as the (only acceptable) way to complete graduation in the traditional full-time four years, but this again is not necessarily the best option for the student. This is particularly true in fields such as engineering, where pre-requisites abound and many of the required courses are not available in summer sessions. Students entering the job market can benefit more from summer internships than from full time summer school, because of the value of relevant work experience to potential employers.

    As someone who worked summers and during the school year to complete my own education, I am also sympathetic to the student who must split their time between academics and working in order to get an education. Does UT want to discourage working students from pursuing an education?

    Please be careful that you don’t limit the academic freedom of your students in order to make your statistics look better.

  5. Theresa Elms says:

    As a parent of a freshman at UT I can appreciate efforts taken to prevent students from dropping out. However, my daughter is already planning to complete a dual degree which will take five years and is planning to take advantage of as many internships and co-operative education experiences as she can. My husband and I encourage this approach. (In fact we purchased the 5 year Texas Tomorrow Fund when she was 2 years old). My husband works in the petrochemical industry and I work in the aerospace industry and we both see the importance of relavent job experience along with excellent academic achievement. In this tight job market, internship and co-op experience often is the deciding factor in being hired. We are not concerned that our daughter will not graduate in 4 years because she has planned for five from the beginning. I am hoping that this new initiative will not make it difficult for her to achieve her goals.

  6. The last three recommendations prohibit the pursuit of education to its fullest extent. College is a time of self-discovery, and not every student can discover their passion during their first year. It may take a bit of trial and error, and I worry that “helping students commit to a major” may actually be pigeonholing students into a field that is not the best fit.

    Furthermore, internships are an invaluable experience that may prohibit a student from taking a full course load in the summer. Working to afford this summer tuition rate could also prevent a student from enrolling full-time.

    Increasing tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits penalizes students for seeking knowledge, once again.

    The aforementioned concerns all applied to my own experience, and although I took an extra semester to graduate (graduated December 2011), if any one of the last three bullets had been enacted during my time at UT, I would have been severely disadvantaged and likely working at a job that leaves me dissatisfied.

  7. Joanna E. Lowry says:

    Class of ’62

    These recommendations seem sound, and certainly should help the graduation rate.

    However, as a public school high school teacher (although retired since ’98), part of the problem is somehow students had gotten the idea that 9 hrs was full semester load, and that 6 yrs was considered a reasonable time for a bachelors degree.

    Maybe visits from students, staff or alumni to high school senior students, and their counselors could dispel that myth.

    Sincerely,
    Joanna

  8. John Mark BBA 86 Finance & Intl Business says:

    Dear Bill,

    I was very concerned about this new priority or goal of “Getting Them In & Getting Them Out” approach to education. It is hard enough to get “Them In” the UT programs now in 2012. I am a 82-86 student and graduated with an extra summer class as I lacked ONE 3 hour credit (Sorry I over stayed my welcome). If one is working to pay for an education, this makes a full school load almost impossible.

    I am sorry for a negative comments but Bill, we met in Bern, Switzerland and I feel UT is taking a road less travelled with todays other priorities & challenges for families to keep a job, pay bills and manage other day to day priorities.

    Signed,

    John M
    BBA Finance August 1986

  9. I look forward to reading this report. However, in looking over the list of task force members, I can’t help but notice there wasn’t a single staff member involved, not a single member of the academic advising community. While I don’t doubt at all the integrity of the task force members, at best, I can’t help but think they got an incomplete picture of the issues involved by not including the very people who work daily with our undergraduates to ensure their success. The academic advising community has a necessary perspective that should have been included from the beginning, and I sincerely hope that in any future discussions of the recommendations of this report, that their input is sought.