Fenves pushes higher four-year graduation rates

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UT Austin President Gregory Fenves presents four-year graduation rate analysis to the Board of Regents in their meeting Wednesday morning. Through programs such as the University Leadership Network, the University hopes to raise the four-year graduation rate to 70 percent.
Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

When UT Austin President Gregory Fenves  returned to the University as Dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering in 2008, he was surprised to learn that the four-year graduation rate was just over 50 percent, but changes he and University officials have made pushed the number toward the University’s goal of a 70 percent four-year graduation rate. 

Fenves presented his report Wednesday morning on the improvements to the University’s four-year graduation rates and the steps the University’s taken to improve these numbers at the Board of
Regents meeting.

Creating a sense of community within a graduating class has been a successful way to increase graduation rates, Fenves said. He said an improved experience their first year will lead to a student coming back for their second year, which will increase a student’s likelihood of graduation, according to data from the University.  

“One of the biggest changes was change in culture,” Fenves said. “Beginning at orientation as a freshman, [we] create that identity, create a sense that there are a lot of students that are expected to graduate in four years.”

According to data presented by Fenves, 30 years ago, the four-year graduation rate at UT was under 40 percent. Currently, it is close to 60 percent.  Six-year graduation rates have increased from under 60 to close to 80 percent.  

Fenves said the University Leadership Network  has been one of the successful programs the University has created to make the University experience engaging for students. It helps provide students with opportunities for scholarships and internships at the University.

The ULN uses predictive analytics to identify 500 students in an incoming class who are least likely to graduate in four years and offers them a place in the program. Seventy percent of students in this cohort are first-generation college students, 75 percent are underrepresented students of color and 80 percent are Pell Grant eligible, Fenves said.

The Class of 2017 is considered to be the first group to be a part of the University’s initiative to create a culture around four-year graduation rates, Fenves said.

Predicted graduation rates for the Class of 2017 overall were projected to be 56 percent, and the graduation rates for Class of 2017 ULN students were projected to be 33 percent, Fenves said.

Persistence rates have stayed above 80 percent for both ULN and non-ULN students in the Class of 2017 students through their first three years at the University. 

Anfernee Young, international relations and global studies senior, said the opportunities provided by the ULN have greatly eased his experience at the University. He interns at both the Dean of Students and the Research Institute.

“Scholarship aid from ULN helped me not worry so much about financial problems that I’ve had coming to UT,” Young said. “I was able to focus on my studies more and also intern.”

Regent Brenda Pejovich was appointed to the board in 2010  and has seen the results of the attempts to increase four-year graduation rates. She thanked President Fenves for his efforts in helping with this.

 “It’s been heartwarming to be on this journey for the past six years and to see the progress that we’re making,” Pejovich said to close the meeting.