Appeared in Texas Parents 2013 November E-Newsletter
Dr. David Laude, Senior Vice Provost for Enrollment and Graduation Management
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.
Some of you are justifiably concerned about whether resources are also being put into improved graduation rates for upperclassmen, and specifically, whether we are looking out for our graduating seniors. The honest answer is, we are starting now. The driver for this is something I have known for years—in certain majors at UT it can be really difficult to get courses needed to graduate. And even in majors where courses are available, the complexity of the degree plans and all those university policies can make navigation really difficult—that semester spent on a study abroad in Spain shouldn't have set your son or daughter back a semester, but it sure seems like it sometimes.
One thing I think everyone can agree on is that if the University is going to make a big deal about graduating students in four years, then it has to stand by a promise that if a student is making normative progress to a degree, then they should be guaranteed that they will graduate in four years. The President believes this, the Provost believes this, and I believe it. And I believe it not just in my role as a campus administrator but also because as a parent I would be pretty upset if my two older sons had come to me and said they would have to stay in school another year because their college had run out of seats, or misadvised on what courses to take.
The good news is that we aren't the only ones who believe this—the colleges do as well, and especially in the impacted colleges there is a real effort to back that promise with action. I know that when I was the student dean in Natural Sciences, we went to painstaking lengths to ensure that graduating seniors got their courses. It might have required students going to school in the summer on occasion, but we got them through, even if it meant modifying the degree plan. I know this strategy continues even to this day in the college.
That said, UT is a complicated place and there is no end of ways in which the system can break down due to conflicting policies, limited resources, and most commonly, poor communication. It doesn’t help that there is often a back story that when unearthed can go a long way to explaining why things didn’t quite turn out to your satisfaction—like that 8 AM class that seemed a little too early in the day for a graduating senior to take.
Regardless the reason though, the bottom line is that UT must stand behind its commitment to graduate its students in four years. Toward that end, I am in the process of creating a Four Year Graduation Help Desk that will be operated out of my office and using the power and resource of the Provost’s Office, will be in a position to break through what might seem to be otherwise insurmountable impasses to students. My intention is that this Help Desk be operational by spring and the kind of place your son or daughter can go online or in person to get the help needed.
In the meantime, there is already a help desk. It is my e-mail address, and I am happy to be the recipient of concerns that your children have.
Here it is: dalaude-Helpdesk@austin.utexas.edu. Please send them my way when they seem to be at a loss to resolve their concerns about graduation.
P.S. I wish you and your family the best as we head into Thanksgiving and the holiday season. Some helpful dos and don’ts when talking to your kids:
- Do have your kids complete their interactive degree audits (IDA) online to see if they are on track to graduate.
- Don’t forget to pay those fee bills so your kids don’t have their courses dropped.
- Do remember that during adds and drops in the spring, thousands of seats open – the early bird gets the seats.