The $10 million registration experience

As students plan their schedules for another semester and navigate the often stressful registration process, they use the variety of course-planning tools at their disposal. They book advising appointments, consult degree audits and cobble together schedules. For help with that process, many turn to MyEdu, a website founded in 2008 that centralizes scheduling, degree planning, professor reviews and academic advising in one online platform.

In 2011 the UT System Board of Regents invested $10 million in MyEdu, ostensibly in an attempt to provide a more efficient and easy-to-use means of planning for graduation.

The investment was in the news for months following the initial announcement, and debate swirled over whether it was worthwhile — especially juxtaposed against the regents’ other, more austere measures, like the 2012 refusal to allow UT-Austin a modest tuition raise. At the time of the investment, UT President William Powers Jr., said that it “was a decision of the board, not a decision of the campus,” and that he would have spent the money differently.

In response, the UT System released a statement describing the investment as “a literal ‘gift’ from the Board of Regents directly to the 211,000 students matriculating in the system’s institutions.”

In the time since, the furor has died down. In an interview with The Daily Texan, Powers said that “the MyEdu people have been extremely responsive to the campus needs … The working relationship between us and the MyEdu people has been very cooperative.” When asked about the comment he made to the contrary in 2011, he said, “That’s history, and I would like to move ahead and say, ‘How can we move forward in a positive way?’”

However, the question remains — was the regents’ investment justified? And has it turned out as helpful to students as it was promised to be?

The numbers show that since the investment, MyEdu has surged in popularity at UT. According to Frank Lyman, MyEdu’s chief product officer, roughly 90,000 students across the UT System use MyEdu today, compared to under 40,000 before 2011. UT-Austin specifically has shown a similar but less dramatic surge; 90 percent of the undergraduate population uses the website now compared to 75 percent before. Clearly, the partnership between UT and MyEdu has benefited MyEdu.

Michael Morton, former UT Senate of College Councils president, has a less positive view of the collaboration. “I don’t think it’s benefited UT students much at all,” Morton says. “From a student perspective, you’re not getting anything different than you had prior to the deal.”

MyEdu executives dispute that claim; Lyman points to the new sections of the website devoted to job searches and student profiles to attract potential employers. “We have about 20 current employers who are connecting with students on the MyEdu platform,” Lyman says. “We also scrape hundreds of thousands of jobs from around the web and suggest them to students based on things they put in their profile.”

However, one metric suggests that for the vast majority of users, the changes since the collaboration began have not been quite as revolutionary as MyEdu supporters predicted. The job search and career profile sections of the website, while expanding, still only comprise respectively 12 and 5 percent of the site’s traffic. The rest of the site’s users mostly stick to the professor reviews and scheduling features, which, while extremely useful, were freely available before 2011. They’re also easily accessible outside of MyEdu — and Google Calendar offer similar services, although anyone using them would have to endure the inconvenience of opening two separate tabs.

It’s impossible to quantify whether the collaboration will markedly improve four-year graduation rates as promised. But the question of whether the University should have partnered with MyEdu is easier to answer.

UT is welcome to invest its money in a wide variety of companies and enterprises, including online education aids like MyEdu. Based on the success the company has shown in increasing its foothold across the UT System, it’s proven to be a profitable venture. However, the regents’ unusually direct investment — which bypassed the University’s investment company — and enthusiastic hype for MyEdu overstate the partnership’s benefits to UT students. MyEdu is a useful tool, and its popularity among the student population is a credit to its functionality. But to the average student registering for courses this spring, it has not yet become the $10 million “gift” that was promised.

For his part, President Powers prefers to let the issue lie. “If the point of your inquiry is, ‘was the original investment worthwhile,’” he said, “that’s in the past and I’d like to focus on moving forward.”