Beyond four-year grads

Yesterday, UT announced four new financial aid pilot programs, worth $5 million total, notable because the resulting handouts will be tethered to a student’s ability to graduate in four years. In the past year, the UT administration spent much energy encouraging students not to overstay their welcome in an effort to raise UT’s 2011 four-year graduation rate from 51 percent to 70 percent by 2016. This financial aid pilot program is the latest enthusiastic effort from the Tower to advance the four-year graduation rate cause.

We acknowledge that it is less costly to graduate in four years than five, but we remain unconvinced that four is a magic number or that raising four-year graduation rates is truly in the interest of individual students’ educations and deserving of so much of the Tower’s time and promotional efforts.

One of the new pilot programs offers a $1,000 one-time scholarship if students complete at least 30 hours of course work, maintain a certain grade point average and complete leadership training in their freshman year.

“Anytime you can use something like financial aid to prompt students to stop and think differently about how they respond in college, you have no choice but to do so,” said David Laude, a chemistry professor and UT’s vice provost for enrollment graduation management (aka the “four-year graduation rates czar”). Using financial aid as a carrot, UT administration hopes to encourage students to graduate more quickly. There’s not much more to it than that.

We long for the days when Laude’s intellectual energies were devoted to doling out unsolicited life lessons, not raising grad rates.  One former student remembers when one day, mid-equation, Laude turned to the class and announced, “If you have a friend who’s fragile, abandon them. They’ll figure it out on their own.”