By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz – AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
“You are in for a tremendous four-year experience here.”
UT is pulling out all the stops to raise its graduation rates, and the class of 2016 is Exhibit A. If the university meets the goal Powers set last year, at least 70 percent of this fall’s first-time-in-college freshmen will earn a degree within four years.
That would be a dramatic improvement for a campus whose culture has long tolerated a more casual approach to the pace of education. UT’s graduation rate has ranged from 45.6 percent to 52.6 percent in the past several years. Its most recent graduation rate, 50.9 percent for the class of 2011, is the highest among the state’s 38 public universities, but some top-tier public universities in other states do considerably better.
UT officials are determined to change the culture. In part, they are motivated by a desire to cut costs — for students, their families and the university. There is also a political component: Members of the UT System Board of Regents, all of whom were appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, have been pressing the Austin flagship and other system campuses for several years to boost graduation rates.
The university has retooled freshman orientation to put a stronger emphasis on academics. For example, a session on the transition from high school academics to college-level work, which used to be optional, is now mandatory.
Even the swag conveys the new emphasis. Messenger bags, T-shirts, the orientation guide and other handouts all bear a logo for the class of 2016.
“We’re really going all out on the logo,” said Mark Musick, an associate dean for liberal arts who was put in charge of orientation this year. “They’re going to be inundated with these messages.”
Powers wasn’t overbearing in his remarks to about 1,200 freshmen gathered at Hogg Auditorium at the start of their three-day orientation. He spoke of the power of university life to transform a young person intellectually and socially. And he said the university was stepping up advising, expanding its course offerings and taking other steps to help students navigate their path.
Justin Kosley, a student from Sugar Land who plans to major in chemical engineering, said he was confident of graduating in four years. Mostly, he was just glad to be on campus.
“My goal has always been to come here,” he said. “I was raised a Longhorn. My parents both went here.”
Contact Ralph K.M. Haurwitz at 445-3604
read more from the statesman and Ralph K.M. Haurwitz http://www.statesman.com/news/local/incoming-ut-freshmen-getting-earful-on-graduating-in-2395130.html
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