Powers forms task force to increase academic achievement, reduce costs

Elizabeth Hinojos

President William Powers Jr. announced the formation of a task force on graduation rates to help reduce costs and increase academic achievement at the University.

More than half, 52.9 percent, of UT students graduate in four years, and 81.3 percent graduate within six, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Although that gives UT the highest four-year graduation rate of any Texas university, Powers said he wants the University to be competitive with top schools in the country.

The University has come under fire for so-called inefficiencies from groups such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Gov. Rick Perry. Powers said the University had been trying to tackle graduation rates long before public debate began last semester. He said the task force meets one of the goals of the Commission of 125, a group of 125 citizens founded in 2002 that works to improve the University and the experience of students.

Former UT President Larry Faulkner designed UT’s flat rate tuition system, which began in 2004, to make it cheaper for students to take more credit hours, allowing them to graduate on time. Advising in the school of undergraduate studies was designed to help students plan their path in the university and improve on-time graduation rates. The task force is the next step of that process, Powers said.

Recent budget cuts have made graduation rates an even more immediate concern because improving them will allow all students and administrators to get the most out of University resources even as those resources dwindle with a $92 million cut in state funding between the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 bienniums, he said.

“We’re at a stage where making the pathways through the University enables students to graduate on time. It saves them and us time and money along with state resources,” Powers said. “Now is the time we ought to be thinking creatively about additional ways we can further that process.”

Powers emphasized the importance of student, faculty and staff involvement to improve graduation rates. He said it is important to get ideas and insight from people other than administrators.

“This may be a win-win situation, it doesn’t do things that diminish the education for students,” Powers said. “I think this is a particularly important place to continue to work.”
The task force will include eight faculty members and five students representing different colleges and schools. The cross-section of members will be able to propose ideas that may impact some colleges more than others.

Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Randy Diehl will chair the task force. Powers said he was chosen because of his outstanding leadership on campus.

“He is in a very large college that understands the complexities that deal with students’ success and progress,” Powers said.

In an interview Tuesday, Diehl said as soon as he gets organized, he will take charge of the mission and move forward to create a structure. He told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday that he hopes to bring up four-year graduation rates to 70 or even 90 percent.

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Task force set to try to raise four-year rate of graduation