ACA Advisory Council Statement on 4 year Graduation Rates
November 1, 2011Dear Provost Leslie and Vice Provosts Ritter and Keller,On behalf of the Academic Counselors Association (ACA), I’d like to thank you forsoliciting the opinion of our group on the topic of four-year graduation rates at TheUniversity of Texas at Austin.In such a short time frame, and during one of the busiest times of the year, we felt that thequickest and most effective way to gather information was in the form of a survey.Attached, you will find the answer-by-answer results of the survey and a synopsis of theresults that were put together by ACA’s President-Elect, Nathan Vickers, and the ACAAdvisory Council. This group is appointed by the President-Elect and is comprised ofACA members from academic units, advising and otherwise, across campus.From the results, you can see that there are wide and varying opinions on the issue offour-year graduation rates, some of which include the question of whether or not this isreally an issue at all. As student advocates, I think our concern in focusing solely ongraduation rates is that it comes at the expense of student education and career goals. Dowe want to be perceived as an institution that limits a student’s curiosity and desire forknowledge in exchange for a better graduation rate?As a whole, I think you’ll see that ACA agrees that there are things we can do to improveour four-year graduation rates. We agree that mandatory advising would be beneficial tokeeping students on a four-year graduation track. We agree that there should perhaps bea limit on the number of times a student can change major and on when a student canchange major. But we also agree that, within reason, the needs and goals of our studentsshould come first. We should not sacrifice a student’s college experience for the sake ofimproving a statistic.ACA is grateful that you’ve given us the chance to share our voice. We hope that theinformation we are providing is helpful to you and that you continue to include us in theongoing discussions regarding this pivotal matter.Sincerely,Theresa C. ThomasACA PresidentSenior Academic AdvisorSchool of JournalismCMA 6.146, A1000(512) email@example.com
Mandatory AdvisingAs is evident from the survey, we feel this is an important and integral tool in improvingfour-year graduation rates. Although the suggestions of frequency vary, the issue ofadvisor to student ratio will be an issue for many student services offices. How does oneadvisor see her caseload of 400 students each semester while balancing her other dutiessuch as working on course scheduling, setting seat limits and class restrictions, teachingtwo FIGs, etc.?This could require additional staff as well as an overhaul of how some offices managetheir student traffic.Changing and/or Adding MajorsOverwhelmingly, we feel that students should be able to change or add a major, even ifthey can’t complete the degree in four years. To prevent a student exceeding four years,however, we would need to implement significant changes in how we work withundecided students or those who change their majors more frequently. This may be inthe form of a required career or major planning course or in more frequent advising.A limit of some sort is recommended, based on their number of hours or semesterscompleted at UT Austin or in the percentage of degree already completed.Concurrent EnrollmentColleges with rules prohibiting concurrent enrollment should be required to revise suchpolicies. There are many high demand courses that are historically difficult for UTstudents to enroll in, and if it is with the intent of keeping a student on track for theirfour-year graduation, we should encourage them to enroll in these courses outside of UT.The students should not be penalized for doing what they must to complete necessarydegree requirements in a timely manner.GraduationIf a student meets his degree requirements, he should be required to graduate unless he iscontinuing to enroll to meet the requirements for a certificate program, pre-healthprofessions, etc. We should not penalize students for working toward completion ofcertificate programs that we so strongly encourage them to pursue.If a student meets the requirements for graduation and chooses to enroll in furthercoursework that is not to complete certification or prerequisites, we recommend thatsome sort of tax be placed on them, such as higher tuition, later registration, reducedaccess to campus resources, etc.
Increasing Graduation RatesThe way that I understand graduation rates to be calculated is fundamentally wrong. Astudent’s rate of graduation should count toward the college from which they graduatedand not toward the college in which they began. I’m not sure that this is within UTAustin’s control, but this would solve many of our problems.We feel that there are many things to be done to assist students with graduating in a moretimely manner such as financial incentives that are realistically attainable, emphasizingfour-year graduation at New Student Orientation, and making advising and careerservices more available to students not enrolled in their college of choice.Many factors contribute to a delayed graduation for students in addition to changing andadding majors. Some of these factors relate to the transfer process (whether internal orexternal), class availability and restrictions, and developmental or academic readiness.
Introduction: As The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) strives to improve its four-yeargraduation rate, both the Executive Committee and Advisory Board for the AcademicCounselors Association (ACA) created a survey asking all current ACA members toanswer a series of questions. The survey allowed ACA members to comment andprovide both feedback and ideas to improve UT-Austin’s four-year graduation rate.Within this statement, the survey will be discussed and its findings provided, as well asthe ideas and points most often mentioned regarding ways in which UT-Austin canimprove its four-year graduation rate. The results of the survey will also be attached tothe end of the statement, including all comments from respondents. In addition to the comments already collected and presented by ACA-PresidentTheresa Thomas, ACA members provided additional comments to review. While theresults will show that 127 respondents took part in the survey, not all of them actuallyanswered the questions. Despite this, 79 to 83 ACA members answered the questionsproviding a number of different responses and comments. Utilizing a survey such as thisseemed to be the most efficient way to collect the myriad responses from a diversepopulation of advisors and student affairs professionals.Discussion: The following discussion will attempt to summarize the results of the survey aswell as summarize the comments made for those questions allowing comments. Thepercentages and summarization of the comments is not to editorialize the results ofsurvey, or to spin this statement toward any particular viewpoint, rather, to collect, in asconcise a way as possible, the different viewpoints expressed. When asked if advising should be mandatory for students, 71% of the 83respondents said yes. Respondents were allowed to comment, if they answered yes, onhow often students should be required to see an advisor, and 60 of the 83 respondentscommented. The comments varied, but many of them stated that students should berequired to see an advisor at least once per semester, with those students who areacademically at risk, new to a major, planning to change majors, or new to UT-Austinbeing seen more frequently to discuss goals and progress toward degree completion.Comments also mentioned that advising resources in some advising units might not beable to advise all of their students given the student to advisor ratio. One commentmentioned the use of online advising worksheets as a way for students to take an activerole in preparing for advising. Currently advising is not mandatory for all students atUT-Austin; rather, it differs between advising units on campus, some require students tobe advised, others do not. Nearly all respondents, 90% of 83 respondents, agreed that students should beallowed to change their major if doing so prolonged graduation beyond four years while83% of 82 respondents agreed that students should be allowed to add a simultaneousdegree or double major if doing so would increase their time at UT-Austin beyond fouryears. Respondents were also asked if a limit should be placed on the number of times astudent can change her/his major, responses showed a more even split betweenrespondents, 51% saying yes and 49% saying no, of 83 total respondents. 68respondents offered comments on this topic. Comments seemed to center around fiveyears being a limit to the amount of time students should be allowed to stay at UT-Austinif a student changes her/his major. Although, comments from respondents did mention,more than once, that students should be allowed as much time as needed to finish anydegree(s) they wish to finish. Respondents were also asked if there should be a point atwhich a student can no longer change their major, and 57% of 81 respondents said yes.
48 respondents offered comments on this topic. Comments from respondents seemed toreflect that after a certain number of hours completed, generally 60 to 90 hours, and/or acertain percentage of the degree is completed that students should not be allowed tochange their major. Most of the colleges and schools at UT-Austin require students toapply if they wish to change their major to a department within that college or add amajor from that college as a simultaneous degree. Within some colleges, students canchange their major as many times as they would like, given the change is to a majorwithin the same college. 90% of total respondents agreed all UT-Austin colleges should allow concurrentenrollment during the fall, spring, or summer semesters. Currently, not all UT-Austincolleges and schools allow students to take courses concurrently during any of thesemesters in which they are enrolled, or require special permission to do so. On this note,an even larger percentage, 94%, of respondents agreed that advisors should advisestudents to enroll in non-UT-Austin courses if taking them will allow the student tograduate within four years. 65% of 80 respondents agreed that students should be required to graduate whenthey have reached four years in residence and their degree requirements met. Generally,UT-Austin students are not required to graduate when degree requirements are met;rather, degrees are not usually certified unless the student applies to graduate with theirrespective college or school. When asked if students should be allowed to continuetaking courses, once fours years in residence and degree requirements have been met, tofulfill requirements for a certificate program, pre-health professions requirements, orgraduate school prerequisites, 91% of the 81 respondents agreed that students should beallowed to continue taking courses. Survey questions then allowed respondents to mark possible penalties to beassessed if a student exceeds her/his four years in residence. All of the options providedby the survey can be seen on Question 13, but the top three options chosen from Question13 are listed. Of the 83 respondents, 61% chose increased tuition as a possible penalty forthose students who exceed four years in residence, and degree holder/non-degree seekerregistration time, chosen second with 57%. This particular option would possibly meanthat a student might not have access to registration until the very end of the registrationcycle. With 37%, no Longhorn All Sports Package was chosen third. Respondents werealso able to add other options that were not available on the survey. Only 16 commentswere made regarding this topic, one of which stated, that low priority advising forstudents who are required to be advised, as a potential penalty, as well as limited accessto restricted courses, and recreational facilities. One comment asked whether exceptionscould be made if a student was extending time at UT-Austin beyond four years tocomplete prerequisites. Several options were given from which respondents could chose all options theyfeel would improve UT-Austin’s four-year graduation rate. The top three options chosenby the 83 respondents were: adjust department curriculum to eliminate bottlenecks at66%, a financial incentive for students to graduate in four years at 64%, and emphasizingfour-graduation at orientation with 58%. The remaining options, and their percentages,can be seen in Question 14. Comments for this particular question also mentionedavoiding bottlenecks as well as making courses cheaper at UT-Austin during the summersessions. Making it clear that a penalty of some kind may be assessed if a studentexceeds four years in residence at UT-Austin and creating clearly defined four-yearplans, even for flexible degree plans, was also mentioned by respondents as possibleways in which UT-Austin can improve four-year graduation rates.
Finally, respondents were asked to rank the top five issues preventing studentsfrom graduating in four years. Based on 73 responses, study abroad, co-curricular orextra activities, top 10%, class restrictions, and external transfer issues were chosen as thetop five of all options given on the survey. While there was an option for respondents tochoose other, there was no space for comments for this question. Again, all options givenon the survey and their response rate are available. An open-ended question askingrespondents to list any other options that would improve UT-Austin’s four-yeargraduation rate concluded the survey. 32 respondents provided a response to thisquestion. The responses varied, and some were quite detailed and lengthy, providingfeedback and suggestions for the university. There are too many, and they vary toogreatly, to summarize the comments here. The comments provided by members areattached to this statement on Question 16. Conclusion: To reiterate, the information provided in this statement is by no means aneditorialized collection of comments, rather, a statement of what seemed to be the mostsalient points expressed by respondents. Collecting the variety of ideas and suggestionscannot be an easy feat, and the hope is this provides some insight as to the opinions andsuggestions from ACA members to improve UT-Austin’s four-year graduation rate.