The University is introducing new efforts to increase four-year graduation rates following the highest freshman retention rates in UT history last fall.
David Laude, senior vice provost for Enrollment and Graduation Management, said the addition of mental health counselors to academic advising offices, the launch of a four-year graduation rate help desk and a campus-wide initiative to “reclaim senior year” will contribute to increasing the likelihood that students might be able to graduate in four years.
Laude said he gave a $3 million grant to the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs to establish mental health counselors in the advising offices of the McCombs School of Business, the College of Natural Sciences, the Cockrell School of Engineering, the School of Undergraduate Studies and the College of Liberal Arts.
“The grant is from this notion of four-year graduation rates,” Laude said. “This is part of the appreciation that graduating in four-years isn’t about academics.”
The four-year graduation rate help desk will launch online next week. The virtual desk will provide students’ answers to frequently asked questions, put students in contact with the right people to help with various issues and address disputes that may arise when a student petitions to graduate.
“Very often, you find that the lines of communication are just not what they need to be,” Laude said. “What if, instead, they had a real certainty that answers to their questions about how to graduate in four years, or whenever they wanted, could be realized?”
According to Laude, another initiative the University is pursuing is a requirement for students to identify a senior year, as opposed to the existing system, in which students apply for graduation a month before the end of the semester.
“Back when you were a junior in high school, did it occur to you that, when you were a senior, you might or might not graduate?” Laude said. “No, of course not. UT, over time, has eroded that perspective … If you wanted to stay another semester, you did. If you wanted to stay another year, you did. If you couldn’t get a course, well, you couldn’t get a course.”
These initiatives are in addition to others launched by Laude in his role as “champion of graduation rates,” a position created through recommendations from the Task Force on Undergraduate
In the summer of 2011, President William Powers Jr. created the task force, which was charged with recommending ways for UT to increase its four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016. Over the past seven years, the four-year graduation rate has fluctuated between 50 and 52 percent.
“Timely graduation benefits every constituent in the educational chain, from parents and students to professors and administrators,” Powers said in a press release from the University following the report’s publication. “What’s more [is] it represents a major savings for students in an age of concern over rising costs.”
The task force produced a final report in February 2012, featuring three main recommendations and an appendix full of smaller ones. Marc Musick, senior associate dean for student affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, conducted research for the task force and wrote the final report.
Musick has overseen the implementation of one of the report’s major recommendations: transforming summer orientation. He also serves on a variety of committees responsible for overseeing some of the smaller recommendations. Musick said he is unsure whether Powers’ goal is feasible.
“The clock started ticking with the class of 2016,” Musick said. “You’re teasing out all the things that are like low hanging fruit — the easy things to fix. The closer you get, the more you’re starting to deal with the things that are really hard to fix.”