Powers talks about four-year graduation rates on Tribune Fest panel

Alex Wilts

During a panel for The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, President William Powers Jr. said the University is making progress toward its goal of increasing the four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016.

In recent years, four-year graduation rates have been at more than 50 percent. Powers said students taking longer to graduate from the University become a resource issue.

"If somebody stays longer, there’s not room for other people to come in," Powers said. “We have students who are taking 145 credit hours. That’s using our resources. That’s using their resources.”

When students switch majors, certain courses they have previously taken no longer count in their new degree plan, Powers said, making it more difficult for them to graduate in four years.

"Degree plans are too complicated,” Powers said. “They’re too specified and narrowed. We’ve got to have a lot more flexibility in that so students can navigate that.”

Panelist Brian McCall, chancellor of the Texas State University System, discussed how it is more important that students actually graduate, regardless of how long it may take them.

McCall said it is a 1960s and 1970s notion that students can attend college from the ages 18-21 while their parents pay for their education. He said this is not the case anymore.

“Today, where the average age of the student is in the mid-twenties, and, in our case in the Texas State University System, the eight institutions in our system, 73 percent of the students work, and that is almost full-time, and that is year-round,” McCall said. “If they graduate in five years, six years, we celebrate it.”

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said demographers report about 60 percent of jobs in the future are going to require some form of higher education or certificate, making it increasingly important to receive a college degree, even if it may take longer.

“We’re not nearly at that level,” said Branch, who is chairman of the House Higher Education Committee.

About 34 percent of the current workforce in Texas requires credentials, according to Branch.

Branch said although he believes there is not a college-completion crisis in Texas, it is becoming increasingly important for students to graduate within four years because of limited public funds.

“To me when you look at the cost of having someone stay six, seven years, as opposed to getting out early – the cost to that family, that person, the cost of debt, the cost to taxpayers, and that scholarship could have gone to someone else – to me, that’s one aspect of a crisis that could be seen,” Branch said.