Speeding up graduation from Texas public universitiesThe Chronicle recently ran an article about concerns by The University of Texas regents that graduation rates are too slow.
At five of the system's nine undergraduate campuses, less than 37 percent of full-time freshmen who started college in the fall of 1997 had received a bachelor's degree from the school within six years. The statewide six-year graduation rate is 52 percent, while the national rate is about 55 percent.Somebody needs to give these people a clue. Why don't they just ask the students why they take so long to graduate? I have two step-daughters at UT-Austin, and I can tell you from personal experience exactly what the problem is: not enough sections of courses kids need to graduate. UT lets the most senior kids register first, and then down the seniority rankings, until freshman register last. Many, many classes fill up all available sections fast, long before it gets down to even juniors sometimes, much less sophomores and freshman. So the kids are stuck biding their time, waiting until they have enough seniority to get into the classes they need. Combine that with long, sequential strings of prerequisites for many majors, and it's a recipe for six or more years to graduate. And God help you if, once you finally get into some substantive upper level classes, you decide you made the wrong choice and need to change majors. It's particularly frustrating for my youngest, who went in with dozens of AP credit hours, technically making her a sophomore after this semester, but she still registers as a freshman and can't get into the classes she wants and needs.
Board members were concerned with both the four- and six-year rates, saying people who take longer than four years to graduate leave less room on campus for new students. That means the universities either have to turn away applicants or construct new buildings at taxpayer expense.
Students who remain in college for a fifth or sixth year also have to spend more money while missing out on income they could be earning on the job, Huffines said.
Teresa Sullivan, executive vice chancellor for the UT System, said several uncontrollable factors contribute to low graduation rates. Some students, she said, have to work to support their spouses and children and can't take enough classes to graduate within six years. Others are delayed by illness or poor preparation for college course work.
But administrative problems get in the way too, she said, such as confusing or overly lengthy curriculums, poor retention and advising programs and restrictive policies concerning transfer credits.
The administration needs to lean hard on the departments to offer enough sections to meet the demand for classes. Either that or revamp major course requirements to have fewer pre-reqs and more flexibility. Try this exercise: for each major, lay out a 4-year schedule of classes that leads to meeting the requirements and graduating. Then look at registration records and ask: can students at each of those seniority levels actually get into those classes for that year? I'm betting in many cases, the answer is "No." Fix that, and they'll go a long way towards fixing the graduation problem.