UT-Austin Should Lead the Way in Boosting Graduation Rates in Texas

UT Austin Should Lead the Way in Boosting Graduation Rates in Texas

Improving time to graduation is an important goal for all Texas higher education institutions but perhaps most importantly for UT-Austin. As one of the nation’s elite public institutions, boosting its four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2017 is a worthy ambition. Unfortunately, today the typical full-time Texas university student takes about five years to graduate, and part-time students take 5.7 years to complete a bachelor’s degree. We must do better. By improving time to graduation, students are able to begin the next stage of life sooner—whether that means starting a career or continuing to graduate school. It also means less student debt, freeing up state resources for future students, and ensuring an effective education pipeline to strengthen and support the Texas economy.

I recognize that not all students are able to graduate in four years, even at UT-Austin. Student demographics have changed over the past 20-25 years as more lower-income students go to college. Many students are enrolled part-time while working and managing busy lives. We need to do whatever we can to inspire, encourage, and support the success and timely graduation of all students.

By 2020, nearly 60 percent of high-demand, well-paying jobs in the United States will require postsecondary credentials. Texas needs to embrace new strategies in higher education that accelerate time to degree and dramatically improve student outcomes or our state’s economy will suffer. Based on the work of Complete College America, we know that the following innovations can work:

1. Creating structured, guided pathways to a degree to help students more effectively navigate their courses of study;

2. Encouraging institutions to adopt “15-to-finish” programs aimed at encouraging all students to take at least 30 credits per academic year, which may include summer coursework for students who work; and

3. Linking a portion of state funding to student outcomes, to encourage institutions to identify and implement best practices aimed at improving student success.

The state’s Closing the Gaps by 2015 initiative was a groundbreaking call to action to increase higher education opportunities and achievements for all Texans. But we have a lot more work to do. Let’s be honest. Making the commitment to change ingrained but outdated policies can be a daunting task. Accelerating time to degree is a challenge. But Texans are ready to move boldly to boost graduation rates. There are game-changing pilot programs and initiatives under way across the state, like those at UT-Austin. Making the commitment to innovate ensures that the work-ready, well-educated minds of Texas will help position the state as an international leader in an increasingly complex global economy.

Raymund Paredes, BA ’64, PhD ’73, Life Member, is commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Board.

 

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