Four years in high gear

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The University is wasting little time plowing ahead with plans to dramatically increase its four-year graduation rates.

Late last month, the College of Liberal Arts sent an email to all of its students notifying them that the online system for declaring a major will be “deactivated indefinitely” by the end of March. Now liberal arts students have to speak with their advisers before doing so.

In addition, President William Powers Jr. announced Monday that Marc Musick, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and resident number-cruncher, is being appointed as a special assistant to the president in charge of overseeing the Office of New Student Services. Among other duties, he has been tasked with implementing changes to freshman summer orientation to make it more academically oriented. The incoming freshman class will be the first one subjected to mandatory orientation for all entrants.

The Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates released its report in mid-February with the goal of achieving Powers’ target of a 70-percent four-year graduation rate. Currently, the University’s four-year graduation rate is 51 percent, the highest among public institutions in the state but well behind many of the large public institutions UT compares itself to.

The University’s frenetic race to implement the report’s 50 recommendations is awe-inspiring, showing that at least when rankings are concerned, UT can shed its customary — that is, near-backward — pace of change, typically defined on its own measuring scale as “university miles per hour.”

Perhaps spurred by the piercing spotlight of federal and state eyes, the University is operating on the assumption of a campus-wide buy-in despite a half-hearted and exception-prone selling point of cost savings for students in the form of tuition they will not have to pay if they graduate on time.

But as the report itself points out, “for the University to achieve [its] goal, it must rethink some of the most venerable and longstanding practices and cultures on campus.”

And this fundamental culture change does not happen without the support of the students.