AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas at Austin released a new study Wednesday which found that the university is making significant strides in improving graduation rates but still faces significant obstacles in getting all students to graduate within four years.
UT says the rate of students graduating in four years is 65.7 percent, which is up from the 51 percent rate the school saw in 2012. That was the year UT set a goal to raise student graduation rates to 70 percent by 2020. The university fell short of that threshold this past year but did set a new high for graduation rates.
The changes in graduation rates mean more turnover. It has allowed UT to graduate an additional 1,000 students each year than it did in 2011 and enroll 1,000 more first-time freshmen. UT’s enrollment is 51,527 this year, up only four-tenths of a percent from 2016.
Over the past five years, UT has been analyzing student data and launching new student success programs.
“What we were able to do is drill and look at the individual student and see what was the likelihood that a student would be able to graduate in four years,” said David Laude, a professor of Chemistry and Senior Vice Provost at UT. Laude is part of the team that has worked over the past five years on this endeavor.
“What we found was students who came from economic disadvantage, for example, might take longer to graduate, so could we come up with different interventions that might be more likely to graduate?” Laube added the rate of low-income students graduating in four years increased since 2012 as well.
He thinks the key to those increases was creating a sense of belonging for all students on campus– regardless of their background.
“If a student feels like they belong to the university, then they are more likely to get help and open a door and walk in and find a friendly face who wants to talk to them,” he said.
But Laude knows there is more work to be done; he acknowledged UT will have to simplify its degree plan so students can get through more efficiently. He also believes UT will have to create a culture where students feel it’s important to graduate in four years. UT explained that each additional year students add to their degree can cost up to $25,000 when you count tuition, living expenses, and fees.
Sophomore Issac Turrubiate Salinas said that the cost of his education has always been a big concern. Coming from a low-income family in Eagle Pass, Texas, Salinas almost chose to enlist in the Army rather than burden his family with the cost of college.
“Just specifically my mom, she’s worked at Walmart for almost 20 years and I know definitely that she can’t afford the expense of paying for me to go to a university,” he said. “As a student here I’ve always felt like the odds were against me.”
But UT has put more effort behind connecting at-risk students with resources. For Turrubiate, he has been the beneficiary of that push, receiving help from a scholarship program called the University Leadership Network, which gives students with financial need $5,000 scholarships for each academic year. He also meets with an adviser to make sure he is on track to graduate in four years.
Many UT students have used the graduation help desk service the university installed as part of this program to get themselves on track. First-year students are now required to participate in the 360 Connections small-group program to help them better make the transition to college.
As a first-generation college student, Turrubiate said he was scared and unsure about how to plan out his time at UT. He says these resources and mentors were crucial.
And as Professor Laude sees these success stories like Turrubiate’s he says he’s encouraged UT will reach its graduation goals — for 2020 and beyond.
“I have no doubt that five years from now you’re going to see something well above 70 percent four-year graduation rates,” Laude said.