We have a mission in the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS) to improve graduation rates. We are tackling this challenge in three ways:
1. Providing first-year students a better start in courses and programs that give them the skills to succeed and rise to the high demands that UT makes of its students.
UGS sponsors the new Signature Course program, which provides courses for all first-year students, taught by regular faculty, which are designed to help successful high-school students transform themselves into successful college students. These courses emphasize writing, speaking, discussion, critical thinking, and the use of campus resources. Over a hundred of them are taught each year as small seminars, a format known to improve retention and graduation rates.
UGS also sponsors the FIG program—First-year Interest Groups. These are cohorts of students taking courses together and meeting once a week with mentors. FIGs make the large campus feel small and help entering students make friends whom they see in more than one class each week.
2. Giving entering students better advice on choosing a major in which they can graduate in four years, as opposed to bouncing from major to major in time-wasting exploration.
UGS has set up a Web-based advising program, Wayfinder, to help applicants to UT and current students who haven’t yet selected a major narrow their options and choose a major wisely. UGS also runs the Center for Strategic Advising, which assists students in choosing an academic home where they can succeed and graduate on time. The center employs a core of special advisors who are trained to help students think strategically about their educations in the light of their plans for the future. Through this center, we provide a solid place to land for students who enter UT uncertain about their major. For no more than two years, we guide them in exploring possible majors while taking courses that will count toward any degree.
3. Creating new majors to satisfy the needs of students in the 21st century, while reducing demand for some traditional majors that are turning students away.
UGS serves as an incubator for faculty committees developing new majors. A recent success is the new major in environmental science. Also in the works is a major in Health and Society. Career opportunities in healthcare are growing fast, and society now needs more than nurses and doctors; the Health and Society degree will help fill those gaps. Another committee is developing a plan for a degree tentatively called “Leadership, Business, and Society.” This would combine ethics and leadership courses with the study of cultures outside the United States, along with courses in Business Foundations. Graduates of this program would bring a relevant background in liberal arts to careers in business. These contemporary majors will align resources in the university better with the needs of today’s students and help them graduate on time with the credentials they want.
Paul Woodruff is the dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies and a former director of the Plan II Honors program.