High Marks for UT Plan

Students on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Students on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

Last June, as the University of Texas at Austin’s productivity faced increasing scrutiny from outside groups, President Bill Powers created a task force to look into raising the school’s 53 percent four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016.

A nearly 20-percentage-point jump in a short amount of time is an ambitious goal, especially when you realize that the class of 2016 will be enrolling this fall.

The task force, led by UT’s College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl, this week issued its 114-page report, complete with 60 recommendations for reaching that lofty goal. Powers said that some of the measures, including rigorous mandatory freshman orientation, would be implemented immediately, while others would require further review.

While the implementation of the recommendations remains to be seen, the report was met by positive reviews from key players on various sides of the higher education reform issue.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, which has been critical of graduation rates throughout the state, said the report was “exactly” the right thing to do. “I would challenge every four-year university in Texas to do the same thing,” he said. “Develop a plan, implement it, and help these students succeed at moving through the system on time.”

Thomas Lindsay, the director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that has promoted a controversial higher education reform agenda that has often put it at odds with UT, said he believed the recommendations would be effective.

Key legislators also expressed support.

Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she thought it was a promising development and said she appreciated the inclusion of students in the task force.

House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he appreciated the “intellectual honesty” of administrators who admitted that they could do better and that even a 70 percent four-year graduation rate is still lower than some comparable universities outside of Texas.