Messages From the Champion

Rich students usually graduate from college. Poor students usually don’t. — That’s the theory The New York Times Magazine put forward in a recent article that highlighted my efforts at the University of Texas at Austin to improve graduation rates among economically disadvantaged students by addressing the psychological obstacles they face.

What the article did not address directly is the underlying reason why many students don’t graduate: the grading curve — the venerable measure that instructors use to separate the best students from the worst.

Registration for summer and fall 2014 begins in mid-April. I wanted to let you know about some improvements we’re making that will make it easier for you to register for the courses you need as you get closer to completing your degree.

One of my favorite quotes is from Muriel Rukeyser who said, “The Universe is made of stories, not of atom.” So here is the story of finals from my first semester in college. 
I took five courses and a lab that semester—it was pretty hectic surviving all the work, and then finals hit and it got worse. I looked at the final exam schedule and saw that I had five cumulative finals, in just TWO DAYS...

I know that there is a lot of discussion about how best to champion improved four year graduation rates.  When I began working on the problem last year, I decided to start with the incoming freshman class— resources were poured into providing  small academic communities for every incoming student, stressing college readiness and messaging around the financial value of a four year degree.  Even though the payoff for the 2016-17 class is still several years away, I think that there is some reason to believe these efforts are making a difference—for example freshman retention last year was the best in the University's history.

There is certainly no topic in higher education that is getting more ink than how technology fits into the equation — see the link to President Powers’ recent report on the subject. I’d like to offer my take with respect to online courses in a 21st  century education on the 40 Acres....

Article in The Daily Texan

For the past few years, UT has made increasing its four-year graduation rates a top priority. At 52 percent, UT has the highest public four-year graduation rate in Texas, but lags significantly behind its peer schools nationwide. UT hopes to increase its four-year graduation rates to 70 percent by 2016.

We are working to provide students with the tools and advising to help them make the best choices for their majors earlier in their college careers, Providing additional information on majors and career options is important for students to make informed decisions that are best for them.

Interview with The Alcalde

Earlier this month, I recorded a UT Advocates podcast for The Alcade's website titled "The University's Graduation Czar." The recording session lasted nearly an hour; yet the talented UT Advocates' production crew managed to pare it down to a compelling, succinct 17-minutes.

A Q&A with Director of Admissions, Kedra Ishop

It happens every year — as the weather warms up, high school students begin to weigh their options and their offers. And to complicate matters, college forums, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are lighting up with information that may or may not always be accurate or applicable to every student about who got in and who didn't.

So if you’re wondering about this year’s application and decision process, here's some insight from someone who knows a lot about admissions at The University of Texas at Austin — Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions.

After about a decade as a chemistry professor focusing on my mass spectrometry research at The University of Texas at Austin, I came across the opportunity to be student dean in the College Natural Sciences. For the next 17 years, I came to work each day with the goal of helping students be as successful as possible in my college.

I soon came to realize that helping a student be successful meant building a full-service college — one that not only helped a student thrive academically, but also helped them adjust to college life, mentoring them through bad times and providing enrichment opportunities to help them realize their potential. My intention was to be able to call student names at graduation and be confident that each one of them had grown to adore their college and their university as they left.

This op/ed originally appeared in The Daily Texan Feb. 7.

All too often when I sit down with a student who is struggling in my class, the issue comes down to not studying enough. In digging a little deeper, I find it's often because the student has a job while going to school full time.

About half of UT students work while going to school, according to a 2011 student experience survey. Among those students, the type of work is split about evenly between on- and off-campus jobs. Look more closely at the data and you'll find that freshmen are more likely to work off campus, as are underrepresented minority students.