Two months ago, I formally designated Student Success as the UT System’s ninth Quantum Leap. I did so because I wanted to make it clear, to our institutional leadership, faculty, students, and the world at large that putting our students on the road to success is, and always will be, job one. It is why we are here.
The inclusion of Student Success as a Quantum Leap is doubly appropriate because, frankly, we need a leap forward when it comes to helping our students earn their degrees in a timely manner.
While graduation rates vary – for a number of reasons – from one university to the next, our four- and six-year graduation rates are too low across the board.
The financial impacts on the student are obvious; each extra year adds costs, and, in many cases, debt. The longer a student stays in school, the later he or she enters the workforce and starts earning money.
Low graduation rates also exact a toll on future students, as our campuses are clogged with those not progressing toward a degree at an appropriate pace.
At campuses with fixed enrollment, prospective students are literally crowded out.
The state of Texas pays a price as well, as the health of our economy depends on a steady stream of educated workers. Today, many lawmakers and citizens are concerned that we have not made sufficient progress in increasing our four- and six-year graduation rates. I share their concern.
The explanations for why this problem persists are as well understood as the problem itself. The demographics of our students have changed. Many are economically disadvantaged, and must work one or more jobs while in school. Some have families to support. The level of preparedness for college is often not what it should be.
There are, and always will be, forces beyond a university’s control that put downward pressure on graduation rates. It’s up to us – all of us – to find innovative, creative ways to counter those forces. Because when a young man or woman struggles, sweats, beats the odds and makes it to one of our universities– and then is unable to graduate in a timely manner, it is we – not the student – who have failed.
I know this issue is top of mind for all of our Presidents. I have been gratified by their efforts and pleased to see progress in some areas. But more is needed.
Last week, leaders from all of our institutions came together for a Student Success Summit in Dallas. I challenged them to overturn orthodoxies, take risks, and most of all, collaborate with each other. The fact that every institution is unique does not negate the usefulness of knowing which approaches are working, or aren’t working, around the system.
We don’t yet know how we’ll get there, but this is where we want to go:
- No student dropping out because of finances.
- No student giving up on their education for lack of engagement, for a sense that somehow they don’t belong.
- And every student – at every UT System institution – receiving the advice and counsel they need to forge a clear, realistic, achievable pathway to a degree and a rewarding career.
That is what student success looks like.
We won’t get there overnight. It’s going to take a sustained, concerted, system-wide effort to move the needle. But move the needle we will. We owe our students, and the state of Texas, nothing less.
Thanks as always for reading. I’ll write again soon.