AUSTIN, Texas — As part of its ongoing efforts to increase degree completion, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named The University of Texas at Austin as one of five finalists for its 2017 Project Degree Completion Award. The annual prize recognizes and rewards public universities across the country that employ innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion.
Since making increased graduation rates a priority, UT Austin has implemented a comprehensive set of programs to increase student retention and graduation rates, especially for students in underserved populations. Using predictive analytics to provide information about students who need support, UT Austin’s four-year graduation rate increased to 61 percent in 2016 — the highest on record for the university and an increase of 10 percentage points since 2011.
“Entering college and pursuing a degree is more important than ever before,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “But the critical importance of completing a degree is too often overlooked. UT Austin and the other four 2017 Project Degree Completion Award finalists have made great strides in improving student retention and degree completion — and we’re thrilled to share their experiences so other institutions can replicate their approaches and results.”
The UT Austin student success initiatives include the use of predictive analytics to identify students most likely to be underprepared for the rigors of college, redesigning orientation to emphasize academics and a sense of belonging for every student, and placing all incoming first-year students in small communities to help them acclimate academically, developmentally and socially.
In addition, an enhanced “progress to degree” tool tracks students’ progress toward completing their coursework in four years and alerts advisers if they are off track. The Graduation Help Desk assists students with barriers to timely graduation, including course availability and scheduling conflicts.
The University Leadership Network was also created to address the nonacademic barriers at-risk students face by providing incentive-based scholarships alongside professional development and internship programming.
“Being accepted to UT is the first step for our students, but timely graduation and the award of a bachelor’s degree are the goals that empower every student to flourish in a career and a lifetime of achievement and commitment,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of the university. “Because of the university’s student success initiatives, record numbers of students from all backgrounds are graduating from UT on time and realizing their potential.”
The other finalists for the 2017 Project Degree Completion are Boise State University, Colorado State University, the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Western Michigan University.
The annual Project Degree Completion Award is open to all APLU members. A panel of seven judges reviewed the applications and determined the finalists. The award winner will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at the APLU Annual Meeting, Nov. 12-14, in Washington, D.C.
The award is part of Project Degree Completion — a joint initiative that APLU and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities developed in which nearly 500 public colleges and universities have pledged to collectively award 3.8 million more degrees by 2025.