Dominic Chavez

As freshmen take the first steps into their college careers this month, a team stretching across every inch of campus is aggressively working to make sure students graduate from UT in four years.

For the past few years, UT has made increasing its four-year graduation rates a top priority. At 52 percent, UT has the highest public four-year graduation rate in Texas, but lags significantly behind its peer schools nationwide. UT hopes to increase its four-year graduation rates to 70 percent by 2016.

Each year reaps new efforts to increase graduation rates, and it is not an easy task for students or administrators.

“We are working to provide students with the tools and advising to help them make the best choices for their majors earlier in their college careers,” said David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management. “Providing additional information on majors and career options is important for students to make informed decisions that are best for them.”

Get more In four: An introduction

Some initiatives happen before students begin their first year, such as attending the mandatory new student orientation. At orientation, students become acquainted with the campus, get involved in the community and plan course schedules with advisers.

There are many steps a student can take to graduate in four years, including taking 15 hours per semester, taking online classes, enrolling in summer school and transferring credits from another institution, according to UT.

“For the first time, our incoming freshmen are hearing about the benefits of graduating in four years so they can make better decisions from the very beginning,” Laude said.

One of the greatest barriers to timely graduation is failing to choose a pathway and major early on, said Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Chavez said students often aimlessly explore the course catalog out of confusion.

Laude said graduating in four years brings economic benefits to the state, because it will get students into the workforce sooner and save students and parents money on tuition and loans. He said it also allows more students to attend UT as the state population grows.

 

New programs

Beginning this fall, every incoming freshman will be placed in a 360 Connection — a small group of approximately 20 freshmen that meets regularly throughout the semester. UT officials said the program is meant to break down the University’s large campus and classes into smaller communities to increase retention.

There are many different ways a first-year student can become involved on campus. Some take part in First-year Interest Groups, a group of 20 or so students that meets regularly and takes classes together. Other students can be involved in programs such as the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, or their department’s honors program.

Lisa Valdez, a program coordinator in the First-Year Experience Office, said 100 new FIGs have been added for fall 2013, bringing the total number of groups to 260 across campus.

“Over the years, we have noticed that students involved in FIGs are most successful, with higher GPAs and an increased rate of retention and four-year graduation compared to those that not enrolled in FIGs,” Valdez said.

Other initiatives focus on ensuring students choose the right major early to avoid the extra costs of changing their majors, Laude said.

UT developed an online time-to-degree tool to help students stay on track when scheduling their courses. Students can use the tool to check their degree progress online using a color system that will tell them whether they are on track to graduate in four years.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, students graduate with 142 credit hours on average, even though most degrees only require 120.

 

Paying for college

University administrators have made a big talking point about the cost of tuition in advocating for four-year graduation, and UT is pumping $5 million in additional financial aid for students who demonstrate they are on track to graduate in four years.

Roughly 500 students are set to receive scholarships and financial assistance under the new initiative. Thomas Melecki, director of the Office of Student Financial Services, said the Dollars to Scholars program will randomly select 200 students this fall to receive $2,000 to pay their student loans if they successfully complete 30 credit hours with a C or better by spring 2014.  

Over the next few years, students will also be able to earn up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness if they work an academic job on campus. Freshmen will be eligible to earn a $1,000 scholarship in their first year if they maintain a good GPA, complete leadership training and complete 30 hours their first year.

“Graduating in four years actually offers its own reward, which is significantly less debt,” Melecki said.

On average, UT students incur $19,112 in debt if they graduate in four years. Fifth-year graduates incur $24,568 at graduation and sixth-year graduates owe close to $31,991 at graduation, according to the Office of Student Financial Services.

 

A stride to efficiency or one size fits all?

UT is one of the only state schools aiming to increase its four-year graduation rates to 70 percent, and its efforts have garnered praise and criticism.

State officials say graduating in four years helps the student and the economy, while critics say four-year graduation is a one-size-fits-all solution that should not be forced upon students. 

Ann Kenimer, an associate provost for undergraduate studies at Texas A&M University in College Station, said Texas A&M has a campus-wide initiative called “Aggies Commit,” which encourages students to take responsibility for their learning and to be very deliberate and intentional in how they plan their undergraduate program.

At 50 percent, Texas A&M has the second highest public four-year graduation rate in Texas.

However, Kenimer said Texas A&M understands that graduating in four years is not something all students can do.

“Since some of our undergraduate curricula, especially those in the STEM fields, require more than 120 hours, we recognize that some students may find it difficult to graduate in four years,” Kenimer said.

Biochemistry junior Usman Dar said he feels UT is overlooking individual cases when pushing for four-year graduation.  

Establishing a four-year goal also ignores the fact that most college students work at least one or two jobs, Dar said, which makes it difficult for them to take 15 credit hours a semester. He said the pressure to take more classes might compromise the quality of their education and overall college experience. 

 

An ambitious but important goal

UT officials concede there will always be instances where a student requires more than four years to graduate, but say it is important that students seeking to graduate in four years have the resources to do so.

Chavez said improving the four-year graduation rate is a key performance metric that helps measure the best public and private schools in the country. By establishing a 70 percent goal, UT is already battling a culture that encourages students to take their time in college.

“Unfortunately, higher education has established six years as the default expectation for student graduation,” Chavez said. “This has been ingrained in the higher education culture for decades. UT’s goal to improve four-year graduation rates is a strong signal that the culture is going to change, and that will help this effort tremendously.”

A bill filed for the upcoming legislative session could standardize the process for students transferring between Texas colleges and universities.

The bill, filed by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would create a statewide transfer compact program between institutions of higher education to facilitate the process of transferring coursework to count toward a degree.

Currently, institutions maintain specific transfer agreements that are not uniform across the state.

Two years ago, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees the state’s higher education institutions, launched the Tuning Texas project, a similar initiative. Tuning Texas is a voluntary transfer compact program between some community colleges and universities.

Similar to Branch’s proposal, the project designates universal courses framed around objectives identified by faculty from universities and community colleges. The compact requires participating institutions to apply all courses designated by the compact toward a student’s degree.

Branch’s bill would implement these statewide transfer compacts as mandatory for all institutions and require the development of transfer compacts for all other majors by May 31, 2014.
THECB spokesperson Dominic Chavez said it has been difficult to get all universities to sign off on standardized compact agreements — a debate that could occur during the legislative session.

“Ultimately, the only way this is going to work is if everyone plays ball,” Chavez said. “[The coordinating board is] not mandating that all institutions participate in the compact nor will they be required to accept all transfer students into that degree program. Universities can still have very high admission standards.”

Tuning Texas has developed transfer information for four engineering degrees and four science degrees.

UT-Austin did not opt into the program.

Chavez said this time line is unrealistic and will have to be discussed between the Legislature and the board.

According to data obtained from the Office of Admissions, 2,440 students transferred to the University in 2012 — 61 percent from four-year colleges and 38 percent from junior colleges.

Almost half of last year’s transfer students began their undergraduate degree at UT-San Antonio, Austin Community College or UT-Arlington.

Linda Young, special assistant to the president for external affairs at ACC, said UT-Austin has worked to ease burdens for ACC students transferring to the University and that state compact agreements would help make the process more efficient.

“I can’t imagine it would be more efficient than if such an agreement would be in place,” Young said. “It would also be more effective for institutions that share students — where students transfer from one to another.”

Young said students do raise concerns about the lack of a uniform naming system and often have to make sure definitions are accurate and appropriate for the equivalent course at another institution.

Students looking to transfer to UT-Austin can use the University’s Automated Transfer Equivalency database to search for transfer credit evaluations for more than 292,000 courses at other institutions in Texas.

Most majors do not require transfer applicants to complete specific transferable courses, according to UT’s Office of Admissions.

At UT-Austin, business, engineering, geosciences and natural sciences majors are required to transfer specific versions of calculus courses. The McCombs School of Business also requires students to submit proof of credit or in-progress work in microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Biology junior Farhan Sahawneh, a student mentor for the Transfer Student Association, said several pre-med members of the association faced challenges when they tried to transfer science courses and supported the idea of state standardized transfer agreements.

Sahawneh said out-of-state transfer students would still face challenges.

“For someone who takes community college courses outside the state, the courses have to be evaluated by a panel, and that’s usually where most of the disappointment of our members comes from,” Sahawneh said. “Most students don’t know if their coursework will transfer beforehand, and most don’t know until they apply to UT.”

More state funding for UT will be tied to measures of student success if a bill filed for the upcoming legislative session passes.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommends how much funding the Legislature should give each public institution of higher education before each biennial legislative session. The bill, authored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would increase the amount of funding tied to student success measures from 10 to 25 percent.

State general revenue has decreased from 24 percent of UT’s operating budget in 2000 to 13 percent this year.

The Legislature awarded UT $295 million in general revenue appropriations for the 2012-2013 academic year. The University’s operating budget totaled $2.3 billion for the same year.

In the past, all state funding was based on student enrollment. During the upcoming legislative session, 10 percent of state general funding for higher education will be tied to measures of student success, and Branch’s bill would increase the percentage tied to outcomes to 25 percent in future sessions. A spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said the percentage tied to outcome-based funding could continue to increase.

UT would stand to benefit from increased outcome-based funding. During his 2012 State of the University address, UT President William Powers Jr. said UT produced the most bachelor’s degrees in the state during 2011, with 9,000 degrees conferred.

Powers supports outcome-based funding, UT spokesperson Gary Susswein recently told The Daily Texan.

“He spoke extensively about this a year or so ago when President Barack Obama introduced that into the national dialogue,” Susswein said last month. “The key, obviously, is to find the most effective and proper measurements to determine outcome and performance.”

Dominic Chavez, spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said the board believed tying outcome-based funding to 10 percent of a university’s budget was a sufficient amount to designate in relation to an institution’s behavior without disrupting funding, but the board supports Branch’s bill to increase that amount.

“Increasing outcome-based funding to 25 percent of appropriations an institution receives is a gradual transition the Coordinating Board doesn’t disagree with,” Chavez said. “Rep. Branch is looking forward, and it is an appropriate first step as we move forward with outcome-based funding.”

Efforts to reach Branch to discuss the bill were unsuccessful.

Outcome-based funding, whether it remains at 10 percent or increases to 25 percent, will be determined by three-year rolling averages of specific measures, including total undergraduate degrees conferred, degrees completed by non-traditional and at-risk students and degree costs, among others, according to the board’s recommendation.

“Unlike the last session, we have reached broad consensus with universities on both a methodology and metrics,” Chavez said. “The metrics were designed by universities for universities and account for those student outcomes that university leaders believe are most consistent with their mission.”

The outcome-based model is also spreading across other states. Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio have adopted outcome-based funding models, and Tennessee already awards all funding based on performance, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Various other states have proposed similar models.

State general revenue appropriations are part of UT’s academic core budget, which funds employee salaries and benefits, scholarships, and maintenance and operations, among other things.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa recently told The Daily Texan that adequate formula funding to make up for increased enrollment is part of System-wide priorities.

“We’re all for it,” he said. “It takes into consideration that not one campus is alike. Even in health care more funding is being directed toward outcome-based success rather than just clinical volume. It’s an important policy decision.”

Cigarroa said chancellors for Texas’ other five university systems also support the idea of outcome-based funding.

The increase in outcome-based funding will take effect immediately if the bill receives a vote of two-thirds of all members in the House, according to the text of the bill. If the bill is passed with less than the vote necessary for immediate effect, it will take effect Sept. 1, 2013.

Printed on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 as: UT funding's dependence on success may increase

A new study shows four out of five eighth-grade students in Texas will not go on to complete college degrees after high school graduation.

The Houston Endowment foundation collaborated with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems to conduct a study which found that only one in five eighth-graders enrolled in Texas public schools earned postsecondary education credentials within six years of their expected high school graduation date.

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said despite the study’s
results, the state needs its students to complete their post-secondary education.

“We have a long way to go if we’re going to have the type of economy that will keep Texas competitive,” Chavez said. “Future jobs require higher levels of education, and we have to make sure that students in our education pipelines are actually making it through high school and completing their degrees and goals.”

The study focused on the educational trajectory of public school students in Texas who started eighth grade in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Eleven years after their eighth grade year, only 19.9 percent of students had earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree or certificate, according to the report.

Chavez said THECB and the Texas Education Agency have been working together on a couple of initiatives to inspire middle and high school students to attend college and prepare them for a higher education.

“These efforts are trying to reach down into high schools and middle schools to create a culture of being college and career ready,” Chavez said. “We hope it will inspire students that postsecondary education is what you‘ll need to be successful.”

With the plan to increase students’ interest in college, THECB and TEA hope to increase the University’s 52 percent four-year graduation rate.

“Even though the graduation rate can be improved, when you take UT out of the equation, there are other Texas universities with graduation rates far below these numbers,” Chavez said. “However, we still have a long way to go to improve the entire education pipeline.”

Lisa Valdez, First-Year Experience program coordinator, said middle and high school students visiting UT have a chance to see that attending college is right for them.

“It’s more about showing them that all students have the opportunity to come to the University and tell them the opportunities they have here on campus,” Valdez said.

Valdez said the First-year Interest Groups, or FIGs, help freshmen have a successful first semester that will motivate them to continue and complete their college education.

“We know if students can find their place here on campus and have a great first year, we can retain them in the long term,” Chavez said. Journalism freshman Kiera Dieter, who worked hard to get into the University despite financial and personal setbacks, said the study’s grim findings can be improved by the University’s efforts to reach out to these students.

Dieter, who dealt with alcoholic parents throughout middle school and high school, said she was inspired to do her best in school because she wanted do something with her life, and feels middle school students need to be told how important college is for their future.

“Junior and high school students should be inspired to be great no matter where they have come from and will try hard to achieve success,” Dieter said.
 

UT students, left to right, Irving Reyma, Daniel Candelaria and Deborah Alemu are undocumented immigrants who will be affected by a new rule by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The statute requires universities to check that undocumented students who meet Texas residency requirements apply for legal status while enrolled.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Editors Note: This is the third in a three part series about how immigration law impacts higher education and the UT system.

A new rule from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will establish a consistent procedure to make sure undocumented students apply for legal status after graduation beginning fall 2012.

THECB officials said recent national scrutiny from Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign caused board members to address the issue at their board meeting this past December. Under the new rule 19, which is expected to be approved at THECB’s board meeting today, educational intuitions across the state will require undocumented students who meet Texas residency requirements to sign an affidavit promising they will apply for legal residency. It will also advise them on how to obtain legal status by instructing them to contact an appropriate federal agency upon graduation.

Institutions will have also have to remind students to seek legal status upon initial entry to the institution, every subsequent year after and upon graduation, according to the new rule.

Texas had a total 16,476 students signing affidavits in the 2010 fiscal year and UT accounted for 612. Of those students, 12,028 attended community and technical colleges, 4,403 attended public universities and 45 attended public health related intuitions, according to THECB officials.

Deana Williams, assistant director of admissions, said UT determines who meets Texas residency requirements based on whether they have resided in Texas for 36 months prior to high school graduation, graduated from a Texas high school and resided in the state for 12 months prior to enrollment.

“We have yet to put into place the procedures to [comply with the new rule] but it will obviously require additional effort on our part to make these notifications,” Williams said.

Dominic Chavez, director of the Office of External Relations for THECB, said the new statute will not punish any student who cannot comply with the affidavit requirement because most of the students cannot fill the requirement because of federal immigration law.

“We are not putting forth these rules because we anticipate any failure to comply on behalf of these students,” Chavez said. “We’re doing this to create a statewide standard on two issues, document retention and advising. This way the Texas Legislature and the taxpayers will know the process is airtight.”

Chavez said the new rule is very flexible and will allow institutions to determine how they will enforce the rule. For example, he said, it does not have to be the registrar or financial aid officer’s job to sit down and advise students each year to do this.

The statewide debate over who should monitor undocumented students receiving in-state tuition dates back to 2001 when the Legislature passed HB 1403. The bill allowed undocumented students to receive the in-state tuition discount as long as they met the state’s residency requirements mentioned previously.

Barbara Hines, clinical law professor and UT Immigration Clinic co-director, said students under HB 1403 are very aware of the obligation to seek legal status at the earliest time possible. Hines said the new rule instructing students to contact a federal agency was a cause for concern.

“Undocumented students should not contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement without competent legal counsel because they run the risk of being arrested,” Hines said. “As an attorney, I would never advise any person to go on their own to an agency unless I had carefully reviewed their immigration status.”

Hines said the only competent adviser in these situations would be a competent immigration attorney, a costly and sometimes unavailable option in urban areas.

Ainee Athar, an international relations and global studies senior, said the fact that universities could implicate a person who is undocumented is a security and privacy concern. Athar became undocumented when she was 18 due to an error made in her family’s asylum appeal from Pakistan.

“HB 1403 does not give students a deadline for applying for legal status,” Athar said. “The reason for this is simple — the law is meant to promote educational access, not immigration reform and procedure.”

Printed on Thursday, January 26, 2012 as: Rule helps students gain legal status
 

Hundreds of UT undergraduate students did not receive need-based financial aid this fall because of a $3.2 million miscalculation by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said Tom Melecki, director of UT’s student financial services.

The miscalculation affected the state-funded TEXAS Grant, which awarded $2,500 per semester to qualifying UT Austin students this academic year. Melecki said the board double-checked its calculations, found an error and verbally notified the financial services office last week. Melecki said although 644 prospective freshman did not receive the grant because of the error, $3.2 million will be granted to the University for distribution to students.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be able to help some of our freshmen, but we just need a little time to do some analysis,” Melecki said.

Melecki said according to state law, the TEXAS Grant is awarded to first-year students and must continue to be awarded throughout their undergraduate studies. He said his office will try to distribute the rest of the grant funds in early spring, but the time frame also depends on their analysis of how many students the grant can fund throughout their UT careers.

Melecki said $21.8 million went to 4,591 undergraduate students in June to aid them this past semester.

“Those students will continue to receive the TEXAS Grants provided they re-enroll in the spring,” Melecki said.

Melecki said the miscalculation is unfortunate, but the board acknowledged the error and is doing what it can to mend the situation.

The board miscalculated for nine institutions, with the largest error occurring for UT Austin, said Dominic Chavez, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman. Chavez said there was a higher level of uncertainty about funding this year because of state budget reductions.

“We tweaked the methodology so we could stretch those dollars further,” Chavez said.

Chavez said part of the change included a different strategy to calculate grant factors at individual institutions. He said the board underestimated the number of returning students to UT Austin who would qualify for the TEXAS Grant again.

“In financial aid, there’s constant movement that happens,” Chavez said. “It’s not like we calculate it and walk away. We constantly re-calculate it.”

Chavez said the allocation of the grant is up to UT Austin, but in order for students to qualify for the grant, they must receive it during their first academic year in college.

Communication studies junior Shelby Wallace has received the TEXAS Grant since her freshman year.

“If I didn’t have it, I would have to get a loan, so it’s helped a lot,” Wallace said.

Wallace said the students who did not receive the TEXAS Grant this semester may have to take out more student loans than she has had to in order to cover tuition.

“It will affect them later in life financially,” Wallace said.

Printed on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 as: Miscalculation slashes student aid

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted changes to required courses at state institutions at a meeting Thursday. The board denied UT Executive Vice-President and Provost Steven Leslie’s requested to delay adopting the new regulations.

The intent of the changes is to increase course consistency to ease the transfer of credits between institutions.

First-year signature courses do not fit into new regulations

Current state regulations require all students in Texas to take 36 hours of core classes in specific subjects. Individual institutions determine six more required hours for all students. At UT Austin, three of the six hours must be a first-year signature course.

The changes adopted Thursday, which will be implemented by 2014, mandate all 42 required course hours to fall within the specified subjects. Signature courses currently do not fall within any of those subjects. Coordinating board say this may require the University to reorganize its signature courses to continue requiring them for all students.

The University first offered signature courses in 2008 and in 2010 started to require all students to complete one of the courses.

Larry Abraham, Associate Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, which provides the first-year signature courses, said he has serious concerns about the future of the multi-disciplinary courses because they do not fit under one category in the core curriculum. He said the courses benefit students by introducing first-year students to UT’s academic expectations and help students choose a major.

“We want students to study difficult and challenging questions with top professors,” Abraham said. “The strength comes from seeing multiple perspectives.”

Abraham serves on the Undergraduate Education Advisory Committee, which recommended the new changes. He said before he served, the committee did not contain a UT Austin representative for a few years and the recommendations had already been finalized by the time he joined the committee.

“Most of the work was done when we were not represented in the committee,” Abraham said.

Vice-Chair of the coordinating board, Fred Heldenfels IV, said there is time to further discuss first-year signature courses because the changes will be implemented in 2014.

“Clearly the classes are of great value, very innovative,” Heldenfels said. “I just fail to see how they won’t fit with these rule changes.”

Dominic Chavez, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman, said although the board adopted the change to mandate 42 hours of core curriculum, it is committed to work with UT to ensure the rule does not negatively affect first-year courses.

“I think it’s a matter of having more in-depth conversations about how those programs can fit into [the new regulations],” Chavez said. “We’re not looking to dismantle this system that UT Austin has set up.”

Changes emphasize specific skills in all core classes

Another change is the addition of “core objectives” professors will be expected to incorporate into any core curriculum classes. Under the change, professors are expected to “address” certain objectives required for specific course categories.

The new objectives for the core curriculum range from critical thinking skills, communication skills, empirical and quantitative skills to teamwork, personal responsibility and social responsibility.

Abraham said one concern is that the objectives may encourage professors to teach classes outside of the core curriculum so there might be fewer opportunities for students to earn core classes. Abraham said another concern is that the changes could cause professors to focus less on the material as they try to comply with the objectives.

Chavez said the core objectives should not change what the professors teach, but the professor should “infuse” the objectives into the course work.

“Regardless of what they’re majoring in there are certain key skills that students leaving higher education should have,” Chavez said.

One example, Chavez said, is the communications skills required in mathematics courses.

“When we say that a math course should infuse some communications skills, that’s very simple,” Chavez said. “How about every semester a student has to get in front of the class and present their mathematical formula?”
 

Printed on Friday, October 28, 2011 as: State education changes threaten signature courses

Members of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board directed UT officials to remove a major in a present-day language last week, but allowed the University to retain a major in the defunct language of Latin.

Board members classified bachelor’s degrees as low-producing if less than 25 students graduated with the degree during the past five years. A total of 14 bachelor’s degrees at UT did not meet the board’s enrollment requirements. In addition to those granted temporary extension, seven were approved to consolidate with other programs.

Latin, along with five other majors, was deemed low in productivity by the board, but was granted a temporary extension to increase enrollment over the next four years. Members of the Department of Classics filed appeals for both of the department’s majors in Latin and Greek, but only the Latin major was granted a request for temporary extension of the program.

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said in four years the board will review the UT Latin program, along with the other majors granted the extension, to determine whether they have progressed in productivity. Chavez said appeals made from each department needed to include a plan on how to increase recruitment, retention and graduation rates within the department, in addition to other details on why the major may have a great impact on students.

“If their plan doesn’t work out we’ve got to close it,” Chavez said. “Or if it does, we can tell them congratulations and send them on their merry way. We’re going to give institutions an opportunity to prove the relative strength of their programs and strategies.”

Classics department chair Stephen White said there is certainly a demand for both Latin and Greek courses, and department members supplied the board with numbers of how many students are either enrolled in one or both language courses during the appeal. He said the courses do not create cost deficiencies because so many non-Latin or Greek major students are enrolled in them as well. White also said there are cases when students double-major in Latin or Greek while earning another degree, but those students were not included in the final tally of students graduating during the past five years.

White said in order to lower outstanding cost deficiencies, the department is also considering larger classroom settings to reduce faculty workloads.

President William Powers Jr. said he does not feel eliminating majors in any department will save money for the University either, as the same amount of faculty will still be needed to teach the courses formerly associated with eliminated majors.

“If we still have the same number of students who want to take these classes, we’ll need more faculty to teach and it won’t save money,” Powers said. “Frankly, it’s just a catalog cleanup.”

Chavez said degree elimination will allow money to be used more efficiently in lieu of statewide budget cuts, and although classics department members are not currently planning to reduce faculty numbers, he feels this could change over time.

White said he wants to assure students that UT will still offer courses in both languages, and even if both are eliminated as majors the languages will still be required to complete other degrees.

Classics senior Phillip Cantu said both languages are vital to the general classics major, in addition to archaeology and religious studies majors. Cantu said learning both languages and obtaining a degree in either adds an amount of prestige to one’s resume, in addition to the prestige of the university where the degree was earned. If either degree was eliminated prior to his coming to college, Cantu said he may have chosen to attend a different university.

“UT is supposed to be pretty competitive with others schools that still have these programs,” Cantu said. “But if I wanted to focus on just Latin or Greek I would’ve attended Trinity [University] — that was actually my second choice.”

Printed on September 27, 2011 as: Latin major given chance to increase recruitment

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is expected to release an annual report today saying Texas universities have improved their standing among peer states since 2000 but continue to face challenges.

The state agency launched the “Closing the Gaps” initiative as a blueprint for state institutions of higher education with the goal of making Texas competitive with other states by 2015, said board spokesman Dominic Chavez.

The plan’s four critical goals are to increase enrollment, raise graduating rates, improve schools’ reputations and increase federal research, Chavez said.

“If we’re going to build a stronger economy for decades to come, then we need a more educated workforce,” he said.

After the plan launched in 2000, enrollment at public universities has increased by 486,000 students — nearing the goal of 630,000 students, according to a preliminary summary of the progress report. The number of degrees and certificates awarded annually increased by 176,000. The 2015 target increase is 210,000.

“Today, Texas is on a strong trajectory to meet its goals by 2015,” the report said. “However, challenges persist, particularly among Hispanics and African-Americans.”

While statewide goals of enrollment and certifications were met, a more specific look indicates not as many Hispanics are enrolling and fewer African-American males and Hispanics are graduating than expected, according to the report.

The state needs to step up its efforts to improve public higher education to the point of reinventing it, said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes in a conference call Tuesday according to The Texas Tribune.

Paredes said the coordinating board was considering a new plan for the initiative that would ensure Texas will be a leader in higher education by being cost efficient, innovative and offering lower-cost university degrees.

Nearly 1,100 eligible freshmen at UT may be awarded TEXAS Grants, despite fears that the proposed state budget would not provide funding for any incoming students.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board allocated roughly $21 million to the University for TEXAS Grants, which will serve 3,330 continuing students and more than half of the eligible incoming freshmen, said Tom Melecki, director of student financial services.

“The budget for TEXAS Grant turned out better than we originally thought it would be,” Melecki said.
He said the Texas House of Representatives proposed $366 million for TEXAS Grants last semester, but the Senate’s special session budget bill allots $560 million.

“It would have been a much more dire picture had the house version [remained],” Melecki said.
If the grant is awarded, incoming students would be able to receive money for all four years they attend UT, he said. The Office of Student Financial Services worked last semester to put together a freshmen-only grant for students to prepare for the possible loss, Melecki said. Financial aid packages that come out July 1 will not reflect TEXAS Grant awards but will include freshmen-only grants for eligible incoming students.

“One thing that makes me sad about this is we would have loved to have these budgetary decisions made earlier,” he said. “We could have included TEXAS Grant, therefore offering them a generous financial aid package.”

The total grant amount of $560 million would serve about 77,300 students statewide in the next biennium, said Dominic Chavez, director of external services for the Coordinating Board. He said the original bill had no TEXAS Grant money for incoming freshmen, but with the Senate’s proposal, 30 percent of incoming freshmen are projected to receive the aid.

“We are strongly encouraging institutions to stretch resources to more students by lowering amounts and leveraging other resources to fill the gap,” Chavez said.

Some Texas universities have greater flexibility given their financial resources to award other institutional grants while others might have to rely solely on TEXAS Grants, he said. Generally, the yearly amount suggested for each student is $6,700, but institutions can reduce the amount to $5,000 and award more students by conserving money, Chavez said.

Plan II business junior Chris Nguyen received TEXAS Grant as a freshman and said it helped with little things like buying textbooks and transportation costs.

Nguyen said he was able to participate in extracurricular activities, including working for The Daily Texan, without having to maintain a part-time job to pay for his college expenses because of the grant.