UT, A&M Among Nation’s Best Values: Report

 

Can a university engaged in world-changing research truly educate undergraduate students? A new study finds that UT-Austin (and Texas A&M) is doing just that.

Every year, The University of Texas at Austin makes scientific breakthroughs—like discovering the largest known black hole—as well as personal ones, like helping an immigrant student attend a world class university. UT-Austin is excelling among its Tier One peers in many areas of undergraduate education, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.

Speaking to Alcalde, McLendon said he was impressed that UT has created highly innovative teaching programs while maintaining a tradition of excellence in research.

Universities that conduct large amounts of research—also know as Tier One universities—must balance scientific and artistic discovery with the overarching mission of teaching and learning. Measuring success in those roles has been the crux of an ongoing debate over higher education in Texas. The ninety-six-page academic study, authored by Southern Methodist University’s Michael McLendon, finds Texas’ two Tier One schools—UT-Austin and Texas A&M—ahead of peer institutions in the areas of bachelor’s degree production, student engagement, and innovative undergraduate education, like UT’s Course Transformation Program and First Year Signature Courses.

Speaking to Alcalde, McLendon said he was impressed that UT has created highly innovative teaching programs while maintaining a tradition of excellence in research.

The study is titled, “Committed to Excellence: An Assessment of the Conditions and Outcomes of Undergraduate Education at the University of Texas at Austin and at Texas A&M University.” In it, the sister schools also get high marks in graduation rates among Hispanic students and student satisfaction.

Affordability and value, two of higher education’s biggest areas of recent focus, were also lauded. The study notes that while state support has decreased and tuition increased, the total cost to UT students is still roughly $1,000 less than the average of their peers.

The study notes that while state support has decreased and tuition risen, the total cost to UT students is still roughly $1,000 less than the average of their peers.

There’s still room for improvement, according to the report. Both universities are found lagging in enrollment and graduation rates among African-American students and in overall four-year graduation rate among its national peers, though they lead the state’s public universities in graduation rates.

McLendon and his research team compiled data from the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDs database and the National Survey of Student Engagement, both nationwide projects that allowed comparison against the country’s most respected research universities.

The report’s aim is to clarify the mission and value of Texas’ Tier One universities, and determine their success in educating undergraduates. The Coalition commissioned the report in the hope that it will become a tool for legislators with a plethora of higher education issues to contend with in the 2013 session.

Evidence of success in student outcomes bodes well for UT, as legislators and administrators prepare for a move to a outcomes-based model of state funding. State House higher education chair Dan Branch (R-Dallas) has filed legislation to tie up to 25 percent of base university funding to outcomes like graduation rates. Leaders in the state Senate and Higher Education Coordinating Board also support these metrics, developed in consultation with public universities.

“This report confirms what we know to be true—that UT-Austin and Texas A&M provide outstanding educations,” UT president Bill Powers said in a press release. “The report also raises legitimate concerns—such as four-year graduation rates and African-American enrollment—that we share and are working hard to address.”

UT-Austin has seen some growth [PDF] in African-American enrollment under the current admissions policies that combines the state’s Top Ten Percent Law and the review process called holistic admission. That process is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The University has also committed to raising its four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016.

The Texas Union and Tower from the West Mall. Photo courtesy wallyg via Flickr Creative Commons.

Committed to Excellence Report_December 2012_FINAL

 

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