The UT System measures efficiency by calculating the number of students who complete a degree exclusively at specific institutions, but this approach does not account for transfer students.
State pressure is on public universities to improve efficiency by increasing the number of students who receive degrees in four years or less, said UT-El Paso president Diana Natalicio. She said an alternative to using graduation rates as a metric is tracking students’ progress through different institutions to determine the number of students who complete a degree.
Natalicio said last week that 70 percent of the students who graduate from UTEP do not count in graduation rates because they did not attend the university from the beginning of their higher education experience.
“So much of what is happening right now in the name of productivity and efficiency comes from a misunderstanding of what’s happening on the ground,” Natalicio said.
In 2006, 11 percent of UTEP students graduated in four years, according to a UT System document. Natalicio said some UTEP students transfer from the university to UT Austin or universities in New Mexico and California. Based on graduation rates transfer students would not factor into the efficiency figure for the UT System institution in which they are enrolled.
“What we see is a population of students who have a different goal, to use the enrollment at UTEP as a stepping stone,” Natalicio said.
Natalicio said students who transfer into or out of UTEP are left out of this figure and basing efficiency measurements on graduation rates is an attempt to find fault in the university.
“I have to focus on degree completion because I can see that by doing what we’re doing we increase the number of success stories in El Paso,” Natalicio said.
She said community colleges give students the opportunity to earn college credit and spend less money, but UTEP is penalized for efficiency because these students are not counted in graduation rates.
Austin Community College president Richard Rhodes said last week that community college plays an important role in higher education. He said that ACC and UT-Austin work together closely to help students earn a degree.
“I think we’re seeing close collaboration to make sure we have those pathways and transfer pathways for students,” Rhodes said.
As of this year, UT-Arlington advisors are available at Tarrant County College campuses, a local community college, said Kristin Sullivan, assistant vice president for media relations at UT-Arlington. She said this improves students’ transfer experience into the university and will hopefully lead to faster degree completions.
“I think the stated goal from all ranks of government is in seeing more Texans earn a college degree,” Sullivan said.
In 2006, 18 percent of UT-Arlington students graduated in four years. She said the measurement of UT-Arlington’s efficiency is deceiving because graduation rates don’t include the students who transfer into the university.
Sullivan said UT-Arlington successfully incorporates different paths for students to complete a degree, but there are issues when efficiency is not measured to reflect these paths.
“I think that universities have changed,” Sullivan said.
“There are more options.”