UT stresses four-year graduation at orientation

Christine Ayala

UT is taking measures to ensure the Class of 2017 is already thinking about graduating in four years.

Higher education officials say graduating in four years ensures students graduate with the classmates they came in with, saves money and gets students into the workforce sooner. UT has crafted a massive advertising and social media campaign to fuel its four-year graduation message, placing Class of 2017 logos all over campus and encouraging students to use the #UT17 hashtag on Twitter.

Officials at UT’s new student orientation also encouraged students to use online degree-planning tools to help them find the right major.

The University is currently trying to increase its four-year graduation rate from 52 percent to 70 percent by 2016. In the past few years, UT has revamped orientation to focus more on academics and offered scholarships to students who are on track to graduate in four years.

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said there are still other factors that affect graduation rates, such as academic preparation and finding a sense of community on campus. UT officials said students who do not graduate in four years can incur up to $60,000 in additional debt, including additional tuition, student loans and lost earnings.

“You have to convince students that it’s a good idea to graduate in four years, and make the argument for why it is,” Laude said.

Laude said administrators want students to feel connected to their graduating year. The 17 can be seen on stickers, posters, T-shirts and a variety of videos and presentations during orientation.

Class branding like this began last summer with the Class of 2016. Students from that class had a 98.5 percent retention rate their first year on campus. Only 4.8 percent of freshmen failed a class.

UT administrators are also working to help students establish their majors early to increase graduation rates. Last year, the University implemented Wayfinder, an online program to help prospective students learn about areas of study and potential majors that match their interests.

“If you start off in the right major on your first day of class you’re much more likely to graduate on time,” Laude said.

Mariela Davila, an electrical engineering freshman from El Paso, attended the first orientation session and said she definitely noticed UT’s push for four-year graduation. Davila said she felt graduating in four years was a good idea because she would be able to graduate with the students she came in with.

“It’s good to have someone pushing you,” Davila said. “Motivating you.”

Laude said the University is already working on plans for the Class of 2018.

Follow Christine Ayala on Twitter @christine_ayala. Additional reporting by News Editor Jody Serrano.