UT balances quality with four-year graduation rates

Leila Ruiz

While the University continues its push to increase four-year graduation rates, UT officials said high numbers of transfer credits present a challenge to ensuring students receive a quality education while obtaining their UT degrees.

At a town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss the transformation of the undergraduate curriculum at the University, Greg Fenves, executive vice president and provost, said ensuring the quality of the credits transferred to UT is one of the challenges the University faces.

“Students are increasingly transferring new credits to their degree at UT Austin, and, at Texas, we have no control of that,” Fenves said. “We don’t have quality control over those courses.”

According to Fenves, about 80,000 classes are transferred in to the University each year, with 25 different courses accounting for about 50 percent of the transfer credits.

Since 2012, the University has campaigned to increase four-year graduation rates from 52 percent to 70 percent by 2017.

David Laude, chemistry professor and senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said he did not think these transferred classes held students back in any way that hard work could not overcome.

“The residency requirements do the appropriate job of ensuring that a student has been assimilated into UT’s intellectual environment and given an opportunity to thrive,” Laude said. “There are a great number of students who matriculate without significant placement credit and perform extremely well in my chemistry course. Hard work is an amazing equalizer.”

Petroleum engineering senior Matthew Inman said he felt unprepared for the Calculus 408D class that he used Advanced Placement credits to test into, instead of taking the precursor Calculus 408C class.

“I ended up getting a ‘B,’ which isn’t bad, but had I either taken 408C first or had been more prepared for the class, I probably would’ve done a lot better,” Inman said.

Inman said his multiple AP credits will help him graduate on time in 2016. Four-year graduation rates in the Cockrell Engineering School are amongst the lowest at the University at
41 percent.

The University is working at both ends of the issue to find a balance. According to Fenves, the University partners with community colleges around Texas to ensure that their course standards meet the rigor of the University.

Laude has worked to improve graduation rates by implementing new programs targeted at freshmen. 360 Connections, places each incoming freshman in a small, 20-person group that meets once a week, and the University Leadership Network helps incoming freshmen develop leadership and academic skills to graduate in four years.