Joey Williams

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Incoming freshmen and transfer students will be required to attend fewer activities at orientation this upcoming summer than in previous years. 

Alex Kappus, New Student Services coordinator, said administrators hope to increase student attendance at optional events by reducing the number of mandatory activities, although the overall number of activities offered will remain about the same. 

“A philosophical shift for this summer is this idea of really helping create an orientation that keeps in mind the flow for the new students, building in time for students to commute between events so that they don’t feel like they are rushing from place to place,” Kappus said.

Joey Williams, communications coordinator for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said each incoming freshman will be required to participate in a small group, which he said helps increase student retention rates in the long-term. The class of 2017, the first class to participate in small groups, had the highest average GPA and retention rates of any UT class in history, Williams said.  

“We know [participation in small groups] has a direct impact on how well students do in terms of persisting, staying in school, their GPA [and] how many hours that they are taking,” Williams said.

Williams said the personal finance course “Bevonomics,” which in the past has been taught in-person, has been turned into a pre-orientation video because many students walked out of the course before they finished it.

“It’s kind of dry material, and it would take up a lot of time,” Williams said. “They are required to watch these videos, and we know that they’ve done that. That’s something we don’t have to do during orientation, so we have more time to do some of these other community and other programing things.”   

Additional changes were made to academic group advising sessions during orientation, which were previously one-day, four-hour sessions. It will now consist of two sessions, at most two hours long, spread over two days. Students will also only be required to attend two wing meetings instead of five.

Psychology freshman Ann Folker said she found the amount of information she received during orientation overwhelming.

“It was kind of stressful, and I was already nervous going in,” Folker said.

Gretchen Pierce, New Student Services communications manager, said students will be able to participate in more optional program sessions about topics such as campus life and Student Government during three different time slots every orientation session. 

“We did have optional program sessions last year, but new this year is that we are collectively calling them ‘Discover UT,’” Pierce said. “We hope that by branding them that way, students will be more interested in the programs and excited to attend and learn more about everything UT has to offer.”

Clarification: This story has been amended since its original publication. The overall number of programs offered at orientation will remain the roughly the same. Gretchen Pierce is the New Student Services communications manager,

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

This fall, students will log in to a new, customizable portal called MyUT to access common functions, such as registration and class schedules, instead of the current UTDirect system.

Administrators said MyUT will show users information tailored to their classification and major and allow students to add links to their individual portals.

“It’s completely customizable,” said Joey Williams, communications coordinator for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. “It’s going to be tailored to the user. It’s all about getting the information you need as efficiently as possible.”

Williams said administrators decided to switch from UTDirect to MyUT because UTDirect could not display custom information for each student or appear in a natural format on all electronic devices, such as mobile phones or tablets.

“Technologies have changed quite a bit,” Williams said. “A lot of what’s behind the EID right now isn’t responsive. It’s not customizable.”

Jody Couch, program director for student administrative systems, said MyUT will gradually include more features that integrate student data after fall 2015.

“Over the next year, we will roll out features like targeted messaging, calendar integration and the ability for colleges to add content for their students,” Couch said.

Williams said MyUT will save students time by allowing them to use a single login to access secure portals, such as Canvas and other internal services.

“The goal is to have a single login across MyUT,” Williams said. “Now, that’s not going to be completely done on the initial rollout, but that’s going to be the end goal.”

Williams said the ease of access to custom information will not reduce the need for students to visit an academic adviser.=

“It’s going to give students access to information in a more efficient way,” Williams said. “There’s nothing that going to replace a face-to-face relationship with your academic adviser and make sure your adviser is going to give you the right advice.”

Undeclared freshman Alison Seitz said she usually searches Google for specific links she needs, instead of using UTDirect.

“It’s kind of confusing,” Seitz said. “I don’t really use it that much. Normally, when I need to click on a certain [link], say, like, Bevo Bucks, I kind of just Google ‘UT Bevo Bucks’ to click on that instead of like actually going to UTDirect.”

Based on new data, 86 percent of current University sophomores are on track to graduate within four years, according to David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management.

As part of a University-wide effort to increase graduation rates, University spokesman Joey Williams said programs such as Progress to Degree have been implemented to track how close students in the class of 2017 are to completing their degree requirements.

Williams said the Progress to Degree program implements a University-wide audit to identify which students are, and are not, on track.

“The audit is conducted by the Registrar, who complies a snapshot of where the students are in their four-year progress,” Williams said in an email. “That list is then given to all the colleges, who then proactively work with each student who is not on track to graduate in four years.”

In 2011, President William Powers Jr. announced his goal to increase the four-year graduation rates to 70 percent. He subsequently appointed the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates, which published a report in 2012 stating that the University could achieve this goal by 2016 through enhancing the first-year orientation experience and by improving advising and student tracking. 

According to the University, UT currently has a four-year graduation rate of 55 percent, which is the highest four-year graduation rate in Texas but straggles behind peer institutions nationwide.

Laude said that since there is now a focus on getting students to graduate in four years, the University is able to more easily identify students not on track and find ways to help them.

“For many of them, it can be as simple as they had to take a semester off because they studied abroad, or maybe they had family issues that they had to deal with,” Laude said. “But for others, it may have been a matter of changing majors. I think, for a lot of those students who have fallen off track, if they work closely with their advisors and find degree plans that are better fit for them, they can make up that difference.”

Laude said one of the reasons why a large percentage of the class of 2017 is set to graduate in four years is because students are aware of the rising cost of education and the burden of debt. He said increased graduation rates will also improve the efficiency of the University.

“In the end, it’s going to mean a lot more students get to enroll at UT and graduate at UT because we do a better job of getting students through,” Laude said.

Correction: This story incorrectly stated the University's current graduation rate is at 52 percent. As of the class of 2014, the rate is at 55 percent.