MyEdu decision process flawed

Larisa Manescu

Many students, especially during the rushed chaos of registration, have familiarized themselves with the Austin-based website MyEdu.com, an online tool that offers professor reviews, schedule planners and an active forum for students to discuss and exchange recommendations and advice on different courses. The site plays on our generation’s gravitation toward social media, as “more than 75 percent of undergraduates at Austin are already registered with the service,” said MyEdu Senior Vice President Frank Lyman, according to a recent article from Inside Higher Ed. The private company’s growing popularity with students, in combination with the ever-present desire to increase the University’s four-year graduation rate, influenced the UT Board of Regents to partner with My Edu, making a hefty investment of $10 million — 22.5 percent of the entire company.

The investment is wrapped up in the rhetoric of student democracy; positive verbal feedback about MyEdu in general has been used to justify the recently exposed deal. However, two main issues reveal a flawed decision-making process. The investment was made without any prior consultation with UT faculty, and its benefits are grossly overstated, as no substantial evidence about how successful MyEdu would be in improving graduation rates.

“MyEdu will help our students graduate in less time and significantly reduce their overall cost of education,” Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa insisted in a statement. This explanation for the investment heavily simplifies the solution to lingering and complex problems facing the University. Moreover, it is troubling that UT President William Powers Jr., who emphasized the need for higher graduation rates in his State of the University Address, does not support the $10-million investment. According to the Austin American-Statesman, in a speech to UT Faculty Council, Powers stated he would have had “different priorities” for the $10 million and that the decision was one “of the board, not a decision of the campus.”

Additionally, UT faculty are upset that they were not included in the dialogue. Last week’s Faculty Council meeting reflected key concerns expressed by the members. Some faculty members said the information on MyEdu has been “inaccurate” or “out-of-date,” and the site’s emphasis on the historic grade distributions for different courses and professors might encourage students to chart a path of least resistance.”

Although the idealistic notion is that this investment will improve the accuracy of MyEdu, such a considerable investment in a private company should be done with the reassurance that the company is already well-established and known to be effective. From a student’s perspective, the concern about students relying on the grade distribution can be pacified with the knowledge that many students look at more than just this distribution, sharing advice about whether the professor provides useful resources, gives interesting lectures and is generally fair, likable and interested in the success of his students. However, faculty reserve the right to be concerned about what specifically this investment will do. Since it was initially undertaken in such a clandestine manner, there is no reassurance that there will be financial transparency in the specifics of the money distribution.

The decision of the UT Board of Regents to invest in the private company MyEdu appears impulsive, poorly deliberated and, most controversially, exclusive to key officials. Members of the board are scrambling to defend the investment as generous and rationalize the perceived benefits as valuable to professors, students and the reputation of the University. However, even if the decision was made with honorable intentions, the failure to include all previously listed interests in the decision-making process undermines its potential success. More representative debate prior to the investment could have resulted in a decision that ensured the University has its priorities straight in its persistent struggle to tackle issues such as less-than-acceptable graduation rates.

Manescu is an international relations and journalism freshman.