Powers Touts Student Successes, Vision for Higher Education in Annual Speech

University of Texas at Austin students who have enrolled since the university launched its efforts to increase four-year graduation rates are taking more classes, passing at higher rates and dropping out at a lower rate than their predecessors, President Bill Powers said today.

"We have significant work left to do, but we are moving the needle," Powers said in his annual State of the University address to students, faculty members, staffers, alumni and friends of the university.

Powers, who will become chair of the Association of American Universities next month, described a robust vision for the future of the public research university in general and UT Austin in particular  that remains dedicated to excellence and in which "B+ is our biggest enemy."

At a time of rapid change in higher education, Powers emphasized that the university will continue to develop new technologies that improve learning. It will also maintain the foundations of offering a residential college experience to students and giving individual departments and professors the freedom to innovate and excel without rigid, top-down edicts.

"Overall campus greatness will continue to be a product of excellence in the basic organic units of teaching and research, so we need to continue to empower those departments and units," Powers said.

As part of those efforts, he pledged to continue identifying cost savings and new efficiencies that will free up the resources needed to attract and retain the top faculty members who are dedicated to both teaching and research.

"A great university will continue to be judged by the quality of its faculty," he said.

President since 2006, Powers also pointed to recent successes at UT Austin, including among the "Class of 2016" that arrived on campus last fall. Under the leadership of Senior Vice Provost David Laude, the university has implemented initiatives to "entice, encourage, cajole, coerce and do everything in our power to help our undergraduate students to graduate in four years," Powers said.

The early signs of success include:

  • 98.6 percent of last year's freshmen returned for a second semester, a significant improvement over previous years.
  • The fall semester failure rate for the Class of 2016 is almost half of what it was in 2009.
  • During the past five years, grades of first-year students in their first semester are improving.

Powers' address comes amid a historic year on the Forty Acres. He provided updates on many of the initiatives and successes of the past 12 months including:

  • The Dell Medical School is on track to open in 2016, with the university leaders currently conducting a nationwide search for an inaugural dean.
  • The university is beginning the final year of its $3 billion Campaign for Texas, hoping to build on and exceed last year's record gift levels of more than $450 million.
  • The entire campus community will engage in dialogue this fall on implementing recommendations from a committee of private sector experts that could yield $490 million during the next 10 years.

"We have become more productive at what we do," Powers said. "This is good change and, critically, we measure our success against the criteria of what it means to be a world-class teaching and research university."