UT Unveils Strategies for Raising Graduation Rates

Four-year graduation rates are under the microscope. From Texas parents who don’t want to pay any more tuition than necessary to UT System regents who are looking hard at how each campus is performing, everybody wants to raise the percentage of UT-Austin students who graduate within four years.

Today UT-Austin took a big step toward raising those rates. The University unveiled a report six months in the making that’s jammed with strategies. The target is to hit 70 percent of undergrads earning their degrees within four years by 2016.

“The question is, ‘Why is this important?’” task force chair and Liberal Arts dean Randy Diehl told reporters Wednesday. “The fact is that the debt caused by the cost of higher education is higher than credit card debt. Our job is to moderate or even reduce that cost.”

The key, the task force found, is in first-year students. Enhancing freshman orientation and the first-year experience to better emphasize academics, as well as improving advising and student tracking, could go a long way toward hitting 70 percent.

The more than 60 specific recommendations from the task force include:

• requiring orientation for all incoming freshmen. “The best predictor of whether a student will graduate in four years is first-semester performance,” Diehl pointed out.

• creating an online tool to allow students and advisors to better monitor degree progress. MyEdu is a strong possibility, the task force chair said.

• developing more intervention programs to identify and help students in academic jeopardy.

• identifying “bottleneck” courses where limited seats can hold students up—and figuring out work-arounds.

• helping students commit to a major and avoid adding a second major if requirements can’t be met in four years.

• creating flat-rate summer tuition. “One of the driving factors is that too few students take summer courses,” Diehl said. “We have the facilities and faculty available in the summer, so for economic reasons, it just makes sense to incentivize taking those courses.”

• increasing tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits.

Also recommended is appointing something like a graduation czar—a full-time employee to serve as “graduation champion.” For 3-5 years, the champion would see that the recommendations are put in place.

In addition, adding a course manager—who would work with each college and school to move past bottleneck courses, provide additional class sections, and more—is also suggested.

Diehl was the only administrator to serve on the 14-member task force, which was comprised of five undergraduate students and eight faculty members.

Many of the strategies will need to be implemented quickly in order to make an impact by 2016, Diehl added—the cohort graduating that year will enter the University this fall.

With reporting by Jordan Schraeder. Photo courtesy UT Public Affairs.


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