In spring 2011, UT announced it had set the ambitious goal of getting 70 percent of undergraduate students out the door in four years by 2016, instead of the going rate of 52 percent. And increasingly, university administrators, professors, and others across campus are talking about the tricky issue of grad rates and trying to fix it. More than three years later, how are we doing? Today university officials shared positive numbers from the Class of 2017.
In his role as “graduation czar,” senior vice provost David Laude is leading the effort to raise graduation rates, a project for which UT has received national attention. He spoke with the Alcalde about the latest data.
The Alcalde: One of the numbers released today is that 94.6 percent of students returned for their sophomore year this fall, as opposed to 93.6 percent last year. That doesn’t sound like a huge difference.
David Laude: It may not sound like a huge difference, but remember that to get a four-year graduation rate, what you need to do is multiply the likelihood of a student returning each year. Every extra point you get multiplied over four years is a real boost up in terms of being able to retain students. We’ve been going up from 92.6 percent to 93.6 percent to 94.6 percent, so it is a steady increase. There was a time when UT’s persistence rate was below 80 percent, which meant one in five students didn’t come back after their first year. Now it’s the highest it’s ever been.
What has helped bump up the numbers?
There are a lot of factors. One is changing the orientation structure and making orientation mandatory. We’ve also started requiring that every student who is less than 45 percent likely to graduate be in a freshman success program. There are five programs across campus and 1,500 slots we’ve set aside for that kind of assistance acclimating in the first year.
One program we have called the University Leadership Network is for students with the greatest financial need, and it provides $5,000 a year for four years plus other support. These are students who typically would be the least likely to be part of the campus—taking a bus to and from Riverside, working in a grocery store instead of a campus job—and we are making sure they are more a part of it. They are getting placed in internships that teach them leadership skills. We don’t want kids who have economic or cultural adjustment issues to leave because they feel like they don’t belong.
Do you think UT will meet the goal of a 70 percent four-year grad rate by 2016?
When that goal was announced, a lot of people said it was aspirational, which I guess was code for “boy, that’s really asking a lot.” But I can’t help but be optimistic about this. The culture of the campus is changing. It used to be, if you didn’t graduate in four years, no big deal. But now advisors are telling students they need to graduate in four years. Parents are stressing the importance of four years to their kids. Deans are working to get more classes so that students can get the requirements completed to graduate in four years. When you’re providing solutions instead of throwing up your hands, there’s reason for it to work.
Photo by Jim Nix.
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