Juliet Garcia

UT Government Professor James Henson and Texas State Representative Dan Branch hold a panel on education in the state of Texas at the downtown Hilton hotel on Monday afternoon. The panel was part of SXSWedu.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Higher education institutions can graduate more students by shifting the landscape of college classes toward innovative technological learning models, according to a panel of higher education officials who spoke Tuesday, the second day of SXSWedu.

UT-Brownsville president Juliet Garcia and Steven Mintz, executive director of the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, were part of a panel on teaching new educational methods to old colleges. They discussed integrating technology into the higher-education model and making changes to the roles of faculty members.

The panel was part of SXSWedu, a four-day event that hosts education panelists and speakers and is part of the annual South By Southwest conference and festival. 

“When I advocate for online education, I’m not advocating for it instead of small seminars,” Mintz said. “I’m talking about courses like the ones I’ve taught with 592 students with no break out sessions, totally impersonal relationships between faculty and students and a 30 percent failure rate.”

The institute, which Mintz heads, was founded in 2012 as part of a System-wide initiative to enhance student learning in an innovative way and increase graduation rates.

Last October, the UT System Board of Regents voted to offer massive open online courses. Starting this fall, UT-Austin will pioneer this venture within the System and offer six free online courses through edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses.

Garcia said some faculty members are willing to use online platforms, adapt to technology in the classroom and accept their changing roles. This wave of technology also comes at a time when faculty who are resistant to change are retiring, according to Garcia. 

“The most important thing is that no one’s job will look the same in a few years,” Garcia said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable for a while, but that’s okay.”

Mintz and Garcia also spoke about increasing graduation and retention rates by offering nontraditional courses.

Garcia said retention rates can be increased by finding programs that work well and scaling them up with technology that didn’t exist before.

UT-Brownsville currently partners with nearby high schools to offer a math and science pathway for high school juniors and seniors, but the program is limited to 140 students each year.

Garcia said technology can help increase this figure and reduce the time it takes these students to graduate.

Online interactive courses and accelerated courses that don’t fit into the 18-week course calendar can serve as solutions, Mintz said.

Mintz said 50 percent of UT-Austin students will fail at least one science course and 20 to 25 percent of students will “fail out” by the end of their second year.

UT-Austin spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said these figures only apply to those students who take six years to graduate.

More than 80 percent of students at the University graduate within six years, while about 50 percent graduate in four years.

Published on March 6, 2013 as "SXSWedu panel urges education innovation". 

The governing board of Texas Southmost College in Brownsville rejected a proposal for a new operating agreement with the University of Texas at Brownsville on Thursday that critics said would have ceded too much local control to the UT System.

The proposed operating agreement would have combined the four-year UT System campus and the neighboring community college into one legal entity governed by the UT System Board of Regents. Rather, the board moved to offer a counterproposal: Create a new entity called UTB/TSC but continue local oversight.

Discussions of the operating agreement, which the UT System recently proposed, comes in the middle of a dispute between the two colleges over $10 million that UTB owes in rent for the use of TSC buildings.

“Without the UT System, we wouldn’t be here today,” said TSC board trustee René Torres.

“While TSC collects local taxes, we, the Texas Board of Trustees, should have a right in determining the future of the Texas Southmost College.”

UT-Brownsville and Texas Southmost have shared a campus since 1991, where students can transition from taking community college courses to entering a four-year degree plan with ease. Juliet Garcia, president of UT-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, said over the years UTB brought $100 million in state funds to the campus that also serves TSC community college students and that the state dollars outweigh the debt owed.

“All buildings on campus are used by all students, so who owed who and how much rent?” she said in a statement. “Rent owed was only $10 million, but dollars received by UTB was over $100 million.”

Garcia said combining the university and the community college into a single legal entity would reduce the paperwork for federal financial aid and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

On Wednesday, several TSC trustees took to the Brownsville Herald to speak about the agreement.

TSC trustee Juan Mendez said additional state funding resulting from the new agreement is essential for the college, but the colleges should have already been fully funded.

“What has been pitched as another benefit to TSC is that we would have a fully funded UT System school,” Mendez said in a statement to the Herald. “Unless I’m missing something, we have a four-year university here already named UTB.”