Higher Ed Administrators Focus on Completion (and UT)

 

Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee is leading a national movement focused on completion rates—and he’s pointing to UT as a model.

At an invitation-only event in Austin Monday night, Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee touched on the fundamental tasks of public research universities: balancing research with teaching, and most importantly, student completion. The topic of completion, measured through graduation rates, has defined the recent debates over higher-education policy, and is the subject of the three-city tour that has also made stops in New York and Los Angeles.

Gee’s tour is based on the findings of the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment. The Commission is made up of university leaders from across the nation, including the presidents of the University of Texas at El Paso and Austin’s St. Edward’s University. Its findings were published in January as an open letter to college and university leaders. The title was straightforward: “College Completion Must Be Our Priority.”

Gee—described by the Texas Tribune as a “giant” in higher education—chaired the national group. Marjorie Smith, communications coordinator in UT’s office of the executive vice president and provost, said Gee’s extensive experience leading both private and public institutions across the country made him a natural fit to lead this discussion.

In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Gee said that he thinks “Bill [Powers] and The University of Texas, which is one of the leading public institutions in this country, really has focused on the quality of the undergraduate experience and how one moves their graduation rates up.”

UT-Austin has served as a focal point for the commission’s message. At Monday’s event, Gee touted UT-Austin’s role as a higher-education influencer. In the January open letter, the commission praised UT for improving its campus culture toward completion and improving cost-effectiveness.

“The University of Texas at Austin is perhaps the best example of an institution that conducted a far-reaching study of how to overcome long-standing obstacles to improving retention and graduation rates,” the letter noted.

“The University of Texas at Austin is perhaps the best example of an institution that conducted a far-reaching study of how to overcome long-standing obstacles to improving retention and graduation rates.”

UT has focused extensively on graduation rates during President Bill Powers’ tenure. David Laude was appointed “graduation czar,” and the University—already leading the state in four-year graduation rates—committed to raising its rate nearly 20 percent by 2016. Earlier this month, the University announced a $5 million financial aid initiative that would be at least partly focused on on-time graduation.

Laude says letting students leave college without a degree is “wasting human capital,” and that he’s in agreement with the open letter. When asked whether the emphasis on completion is subject to legislative pressure (as Gee alluded to in his interview) Laude says a focus on completion has been a part of UT “for decades,” and that it drives the work of many UT staff members.

“This is not a new question on this campus,” Laude told the Alcalde. He says the past 20 years have seen a profound change in supporting student success.

The Austin event included leaders from St. Edward’s, UT-El Paso, and the higher-education advocacy group American Council on Education. ACE is the parent organization of the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment. The administrators stressed the importance of financial aid to help a growing segment of low-income students succeed and graduate on time.

E. Gordon Gee in discussion at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy Wexner Center via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

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