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Second Task Force on Enrollment Strategy Recommends Improving Time to Graduation

The University of Texas at Austin’s Second Task Force on Enrollment Strategy has presented a report to William Powers Jr., president of the university, recommending a requirement that would limit to 10 semesters the time for students to complete a baccalaureate degree, while also recommending initiatives and services to help students graduate in a timely fashion.

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The University of Texas at Austin’s Second Task Force on Enrollment Strategy has presented a report to William Powers Jr., president of the university, recommending a requirement that would limit to 10 semesters the time for students to complete a baccalaureate degree, while also recommending initiatives and services to help students graduate in a timely fashion.

The report said under present policy there is no limit on the number of semesters a student may take to complete a bachelor’s degree, and many undergraduates remain at the university longer than expected.

“By remaining at the university for extended periods, these students reduce the university’s capacity to serve other students who wish to attend UT, both freshmen and transfers,” said the report, which was presented to Powers by Dr. Isabella Cunningham, the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor in Communication and chair of the Second Task Force on Enrollment Strategy.

Read the complete Report of the Second Task Force on Enrollment Strategy (PDF).

The Second Task Force was appointed by Provost Steven Leslie to review recommendations on enrollment policy that had been presented by an earlier task force in 2003. The purpose of the Second Task Force was to determine if any of the earlier recommendations should be changed or if it would be appropriate to make new recommendations. The 20-member group was charged with recommending a strategy for managing the university’s student enrollment into the indefinite future.

Powers and Leslie will assess the recommendations of the Second Task Force in light of those made by the First Task Force and in the context of the university’s institutional goals. Powers and Leslie will decide what actions should be taken on recommendations made by the Second Task Force.

The report of the First Task Force said time to graduation at the university is longer than that of its comparison institutions. While the traditional length of time to a bachelor’s degree is eight semesters, on average, undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin take 8.5 semesters to complete their degrees.

The report said the 2003 task force also had recommended a 10-semester policy, which was approved by then-President Larry R. Faulkner, and referred to the Office of the Provost. The 10-semester limit policy should apply only to long-session semesters, and students retain the right to appeal when there are special circumstances. The rule would not apply to programs designed for completion in more than four years.

Cunningham said the Second Task Force focused on issues that will help in three primary areas: managing the growth of the student body, improving the quality of the undergraduate experience and increasing the pace at which students earn their degrees.

The long-term goal of the university, as outlined in the report of the First Task Force, is to achieve a total student population of about 48,000 to attain a student-to-faculty ratio of 16, in line with comparison institutions. The university’s enrollment for fall 2009 was about 51,000. In 2008-09, the university’s student-faculty ratio was 18.68. In order to achieve the targeted student-to-faculty ratio, the Second Task Force also recommended the university continue to increase the size of the faculty.

Other recommendations designed to improve time to graduation would include ensuring students receive appropriate advising services and requiring mandatory advising for all students. There also would be a requirement that interactive degree audits be completed and electronically acknowledged each semester by all undergraduate students. Deans would systematically notify students about the status of progress toward their degree each semester.

To foster careful choices and timely progress, the Second Task Force recommended new requirements regarding changes of major. These include requiring students to declare a major or majors by the completion of 60 hours or by the end of the fourth long semester in residence, whichever is later.

Students would be allowed one change of major prior to completion of 90 hours with the permission of the home college and department and the receiving college and department. The report also recommended permitting students after their first semester at the university to transfer to a different college only if their grade-point average is at least 2.0 for coursework in the receiving college and if they demonstrate they can graduate within the 10-semester limit. Students are now required to achieve a 2.0 grade-point average in the college they plan to leave, rather than the receiving college. Similar policies would be developed for transfer students.

In the area of course demand and repeat registration, the Second Task Force recommended development of a university-wide policy regulating repeat registration in the same course. It noted that repeating courses prolongs a student’s time to graduation.

A significant recommendation in the area of curriculum reform is to implement signature courses by 2010-11 in a way that does not increase time to graduation for any group of students, including transfers. In a signature course, the university’s most distinguished faculty members introduce college-level discussion, writing and analysis, along with some of the university’s most valuable resources such as the Blanton Museum, the Harry Ransom Center and many other campus “gems.” It is part of an effort to improve the undergraduate experience and make the freshman curriculum a more prominent piece of a University of Texas at Austin education.

Cunningham said the Second Task Force on Enrollment Strategy has largely adopted the guiding principles established by the previous task force. The only addition to those principles was recognition of the changes made in the undergraduate curriculum as a result of the work of the 2005 Task Force on Curricular Reform. The change recommends that undergraduate curricula should be flexible enough to allow students to explore academic areas outside their majors without prolonging time to graduation.

The task force also addressed the readmission system used by the university. Students who wish to return to the university at any time after graduating can do so without going through a readmission process. Given the increased number of high school graduates in Texas and the limited number of seats available in the state’s first-class universities, such a provision places undue pressure on new admission, the task force said. The task force recommended establishing more rigorous readmission requirements for returning students who have been absent from the university for one semester or longer. It also recommended limiting degree holders who are not seeking an additional degree to two semesters, with subsequent extension granted on a semester-by-semester basis after review by their dean.

Another major concern is the availability of physical resources to adequately serve students and faculty demands and ensure the delivery of top-quality instruction. The Second Task Force report said a shortage of teaching facilities is an obstacle to implementing many of its recommendations and suggested the university expand its classroom and laboratory capacity and implement and enforce a campus-wide policy for reserving classrooms. The Second Task Force recommended the appointment of a work group that will examine and assess how the scheduling and use of classrooms and laboratories can be optimized.