The University of Texas at Austin Releases Blueprint to Raising Graduation Rates Within Five Years

Feb. 15, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — The key to raising four-year graduation rates at The University of Texas at Austin is enhancing freshman orientation and the first-year experience to better emphasize academics and improving advising and student tracking, according to a newly released task force report.

The Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates was formed last year to develop strategies to ensure that 70 percent of undergraduate students earn their degrees within four years by 2016. It has spent the past six months interviewing students, faculty and advisers, reviewing data trends, and studying other successful universities.

"An easy way to improve graduation rates is to water down the course curriculum, but we entirely reject such an approach. Rather, the solutions to the graduation rate problem must be found in ways that keep the high quality of the educational mission intact," wrote College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy L. Diehl, who chaired the 14-member committee.

Currently, about half of all undergraduates earn a degree within four years. That rate is higher than at any other public college or university in Texas but lower than at several peer, public research universities around the nation. About 75 percent of University of Texas at Austin students graduate in five years and more than 80 percent graduate within six years.

The task force offers more than 60 specific recommendations that encourage students to earn degrees more quickly and avoid staying on campus longer than needed, such as:

  • requiring orientation for all incoming first-year students;
  • creating an online tool to better allow students and advisers to monitor progress to a degree;
  • developing more intervention programs to identify and assist students in academic jeopardy;
  • identifying "bottleneck" courses where limited seats can create challenges for students pursuing a required path to graduation;
  • helping students commit to a major and avoid adding a second major if requirements cannot be met in four years;
  • creating flat-rate summer tuition to encourage students to take more courses;
  • increasing tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits.

When students graduate in four years, they begin their careers or graduate education sooner while incurring less debt. Their parents save money on tuition and cost of living. The university gains additional capacity for new students. And the state develops well-educated citizens who can serve individual communities and contribute to the economy immediately.

“Timely graduation benefits every constituent in the educational chain, from parents and students to professors and administrators,” said University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, who will review the report in the coming days. “What’s more, it represents a major savings for students in an age of concern over rising costs.”

Powers will be able to implement some of the recommendations immediately. Others must be pursued over the long term and could require changing university policy or identifying new resources, though potential costs have not been determined yet.

To help ensure that this multifaceted strategy is implemented effectively, the task force recommends that Powers appoint a university employee to serve as a graduation rate champion for three to five years to spearhead and coordinate these efforts.

The task force's work is in line with the Framework for Advancing Excellence approved last year by University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and the Board of Regents. The plan calls for all UT institutions "to become top performers in four-year graduation rates" and empowers individual campuses to find the best ways to achieve that goal.

For more information, visit the Raising Our Graduation Rates website.

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945;  David Ochsner, College of Liberal Arts, 512-626-0788.

11 Comments to "The University of Texas at Austin Releases Blueprint to Raising Graduation Rates Within Five Years"

1.  Boone Jardot said on Feb. 20, 2012

"•increasing tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits."--.I find this a bit alarming.
The problem is, many students have no idea what they want to major in. Sometimes they have to stumble through several degrees before they finally find one that they like. In my eyes this is nothing more than ploy to make more money off students.

If you really want to make sure students graduate on time CREATE MORE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES/INTERNSHIPS. Fact is, being a student is expensive in both monitarily and time wise. Many students have to dropout because they just cant make ends-meet. If you really want to increase the graduation rate, start an aggressive student employment/intership department and put these kids to work. Being married and a father of two I can attenst I would not be graduating this year if I did not have SUBSTAINTUAL help from my inlaws and family. It would have been impossible. Please do something about this.
-Boone Jardot

2.  A UT Parent said on Feb. 21, 2012

How about focusing on quality of instruction and offering more free tutoring. Have you considered evaluating the percentage of failing grades, course drops and adverse student feedback per instructor? Perhaps you could institute training courses for the instructor on innovative teaching techniques.
Focus on helping the students learn the material through better instruction and tutoring.

3.  David Wotipka said on Feb. 23, 2012

I am no statistician (only an EE) but 50% graduation rate after 4 years seems very low.. obviously, to me, this would mean the 'majors' were not 'designed' to be completed after 4 years (for the average student) or you would have close to 100%. They are obviously designed for the above average student who does not work while at school to help pay down some of the debt to that is being incurred.

4.  Clayton Lindgren said on Feb. 23, 2012

I am very opposed to the idea that every student should be able to graduate within four years. Knowledge continues to grow as new things are discovered. This new knowledge must be input into the curriculum, regardless of major, thereby increasing the amount of time required for a student to graduate. It is therefore quite logical to assume that more time will be required to master a subject before being able to graduate. Tell me, does the university plan to cut other supporting courses to meet goals? If I am an engineering major are subjects like history or English no longer important? Those running this once very grand university would do good to cease turning it into a corporation. Some things are good from corporate society but all I hear these days are goals to achieve certain numbers. You should remember that the university is first a place of education where all types of new things are discovered. It is not a corporation where widgets are stamped out in mass production without regard for individuality and uniqueness. You want to "Change the World?" Start by discontinuing to align yourself with corporate philosophy when it comes to the education of your students. I do understand that those in charge are facing dire issues with regard to state funding and other challenges. I don't want to make lite of that fact. However, please don't put the burden on the students or their families / financial supporters. If you do those from poorer upbringings will never be able to afford an education and that is exactly that which you are there to provide!

5.  Whit said on Feb. 23, 2012

It looks like we're jumping to the answers without adequately exploring the question. I'm not sure I'm convinced that "Timely graduation benefits every constituent in the educational chain."

It took me 9 years to graduate because I also worked full time to support my family. Because of the fixed semester fees, I ended up paying more in total, but I was able to manage it because of more favorable cashflow. The net economic impact of "stretching" out my degree huge!

For a student paying for 120 credit hours, spreading the cost over a longer period might actually help. It can help parents as well. Why not let each family decide what's best for their unique circumstances. It should be the students' choice, and the University should help students with their choices. Penalizing slower graduating students seems not only harsh, but potentially discriminatory. (Let's watch the court battles over that one.)

As for helping the professors and administrators.... please explain. The number of instructional hours they deliver is the same, and they stand to make more on the fixed fees which they charge every semester. So... the University performs the same actual work for more money. Hmm.

For the students with enough hours to graduate, but no degree, I don't think they want students to stop attending. That's revenue. I think they want them to keep attending if they choose to... but with a "degree" in hand.

I wonder if this isn't more about the "metric" and comparative statistics which will make us "look" better compared to other universities. So what? We can puff out our chests?

Or perhaps the increased "prestige" this would bring to the University would help recruit more esteemed researchers, generate more funding, research grants, etc?

Any time you chase a metric, you are at risk of doing the wrong things to get there. For 30 years I've seen that sometimes we achieve the "metric" but in a manner which is actually to the detriment of the organization as a whole. Maybe the answers are the right ones, but I'm not sure we're answering the right question.

6.  Lisa Lasris said on Feb. 23, 2012

Instrutor quality seems an overlooked factor. More free tutoring, to offset the lack of concern for inadequate instruction. Possible on-line instruction to compliment the in class work, by the acomplished instructors. These classes can be achived & accessed by the student any time.

7.  Rohan said on Feb. 23, 2012

This downright proves that they don't take course evaluations seriously. It's absolutely atrocious how many terrible professors there are at UT. They expect higher graduation rates, and yet professors have no issue turning their classes into a dog-eat-dog environment, particularly for science majors. Some of the worst culprits are Biology, Engineering Physics and Organic Chemistry. Most of the professors don't know how to teach, unless you have a natural knack for the material the book doesn't prepare you for the tests, and the tests are made difficult to the point where you have to fail it no matter how hard you study and then the grades are curved up, how discouraging is that? If you want higher graduation rates, GET BETTER PROFESSORS. Students futures can actually get wrecked because they were forced to register for classes later on and get bad professors for core subjects. It really isn't fair.

8.  Sandra Lowe said on Feb. 23, 2012

My son is double majoring where one compliments the other. It will take him 4.5 years to complete. I think he should be applauded for his ambition and not looked down on for missing the desired graduation percentage. He works 20 hours a week to help with his expenses. As you can see, this is not a one size fit all objective than can ever be met.

9.  Eric M. Larson said on Feb. 25, 2012

An issue to consider is how UT calculates "4 years" to earn a bachelor's degree. A transfer student who is a sophomore may require two full years (fall/spring/summer) to graduate, as I did. One other interesting thing---at the time I applied for graduation (with honors) in the spring of 1974, I learned that I would not be allowed to graduate because I had been admitted to UT with a high school deficiency of just one year of a foreign language, something I'd overlooked. I was allowed to take a foreign language proficiency test pass/fail to see if I was qualified to be admitted to UT in the first place. I guessed while taking the test, and by some grace of God managed to pass, so I graduated. Had I failed the test, I would have been required to take 2 years of foreign language (at the time, a UT degree in Journalism did not require a foreign language for completion, which is not the case today). My point here is the irony of earning grades that were good enough to graduate from UT with honors, yet according to the rules I had not been fully qualified for admission!

10.  David said on Feb. 25, 2012

My fear always whenever there is talk of raising graduation rates is that in order to achieve that, school will dumb down the academic program or make standards less rigorous, which harms all students. Some students just do not have the desire, discipline, work habits, or intelligence to succeed at university. That does not mean they cannot find useful employment: we should increase vocational training for such students--we always need electricians, plumbers, etc.--but the only student who should be admitted to UT, the Flagship of the UT System are those who have a reasonable chance of being successful without the aid of multiple-guess tests or remediation programs--dunbing down. If we want to increase college graduation rates, we should increase the rigor and academic standards in middle schools and high schools. Please do not water down university education by lowering standards in order to get students through who never should have been admitted in the first place. Education is too important to let descend into mediocrity or worse because we do not want some kids to feel bad aboiut themselves because they cannot get into university.

11.  Nick Spiller said on April 21, 2012

A good idea to me would be to look to increase ROI on tuition through the extra-curriculars all the students do like philanthropy through student organizations and startups. For example, if a team of students founds a company that has true value that adds to the ROI on the money they invested into spending time as an undergraduate student. They still have the 'UT-Austin' degree to fall back on as well if the company fails. Just need a supportive community for entrepreneurs to navigate. Just my thoughts..