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Project Degree Completion Award Finalist Spotlight: The University of Texas at Austin

As part of its ongoing efforts to increase degree completion, APLU named Boise State University, Colorado State University, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, The University of Texas at Austin, and Western Michigan University as finalists for its 2017 Project Degree Completion Award. The annual prize works to identify, recognize, and reward institutions that employ innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion. One of the five finalists will be named the 2017 Project Degree Completion Award winner during the APLU Annual Meeting, November 12-14, in Washington, DC. In this third of a five-part series, APLU profiles The University of Texas at Austin’s efforts to improve retention and degree completion.

In 2011, The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) set a goal to raise its four-year graduation rate from 51 percent to 70 percent by 2017. The focus on increasing the four-year graduation rate was rooted in the understanding that delaying graduation creates financial hardship and causes students to delay entrance into the workforce. In order to facilitate a university-wide culture change so every student graduates, UT Austin created a senior leadership position and staffing to champion student success efforts across its campus.

To help achieve its goals, UT Austin designed a holistic approach touching every step of the student experience from first year to graduation. These student success initiatives included the use of predictive analytics to identify admitted students most likely to be underprepared for the rigors of college, redesigning orientation to emphasize academics and belonging, and placing all incoming first-year students in small communities to help them better integrate academically, developmentally, and socially. Students least prepared were placed in first-year academic learning communities, or success programs, providing community, supplemental instruction, and peer mentoring. An enhanced “progress to degree” tool tracks students’ progress toward completing their coursework in four years and alerts advisors if they are off track. The Graduation Help Desk, a resource for all undergraduate students, assists with addressing administrative barriers to timely graduation, including course availability and scheduling conflicts. The University Leadership Network was also created to address the non-academic barriers at-risk students face by providing incentive-based scholarships alongside professional development and internship programming.

These efforts have resulted in significant improvements in retention and graduation rates. First-year retention is now averaging around 95 percent. UT Austin’s four-year graduation rate reached a university record of 61 percent in 2016 and increased to 66 percent in 2017, a 27 percent increase over five years since 2012. Most importantly, substantial improvements in graduation rates have been made for first-generation and Pell-eligible students. In 2017, the number of first-generation and Pell-eligible students who graduated in four years rose to 59 percent (from 41 percent for first-generation and 40 for Pell-eligible students). These efforts have also narrowed the achievement gap between the least and most prepared students. Using SAT scores as a proxy for preparedness, the gap for four-year graduation rates between the top quartile of prepared students and the bottom quartile has been halved from 26 percent to 13 percent since 2012.

The university continues improving its efforts to help all students succeed and graduate in a timely manner.

Learn more about the other 2017 Project Degree Completion Award finalists.

  • Degree Completion & Student Success

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