Higher Education

The University of Texas’ graduation rate is under scrutiny as the school attempts different ways to increase the number of students graduating in four years.

In February a task force assembled by UT President Bill Powers offered 60 suggestions to encourage students to earn their degree more quickly.

In late August and early September, UT began a sort of branding campaign. The number 2016 (signifying the graduation date for incoming freshmen) began to appear all around campus: on shirts, on tote bags, and even on Twitter (as #2016 became a popular hashtag).

Imagine going to college and finding an oil rig on campus. That's becoming increasingly likely as oil and gas companies use a controversial technique commonly referred to as fracking to extract resources from land underneath campuses across the country.

Environmental science professor Jeffery Stone will never forget the day the earth shook on Indiana State University's campus in Terre Haute.

"They did it like in eight-second pulses, and you could feel the whole sidewalk wobble like an earthquake almost," Stone says.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

The University of Texas System Board of Regents will meet in Tyler this week and consider, among many things, whether to approve the construction of a system office building in downtown Austin that is projected to cost $102,417,000.

The UT System's downtown Austin offices are currently spread across five aging buildings — the oldest has been around for more than 130 years — with mounting maintenance costs. Officials determined that a change was in order. They decided that the best option would be to construct a 16-story building comprising 258,500 square feet of office space and garage capacity for more than 650 vehicles in a spot — close to the state Capitol and the University of Texas at Austin — where two of their current buildings sit.

Liang Shi for KUT News

The Texas Constitution says the state will “provide for the maintenance, support and direction of a University of the first class.”

In 1984, that meant about half of every dollar in higher education came out of the state budget. Today, it’s closer to 13 percent at the University of Texas at Austin and 22 percent at Texas A&M University in College Station.

So, at that level, is the state really providing for the sort of education championed in its founding document?

That’s fodder for debate. Lawyers could probably generate a room full of words over the obligations imparted by the word “provide.” The bigger question is whether the state is doing enough, and whether doing enough — whatever that entails — necessarily requires more money.

KUT News

The class rank requirements for automatic admission into the University of Texas at Austin are getting more stringent.

UT President Bill Powers says that for the Summer/Fall of 2014 and Spring of 2015, UT will automatically admit Texas seniors who rank in the top 7 percent of their high school class.

That’s down from the top 9 percent this Fall/Spring and the top 8 percent next Fall/Spring.

Brandon Mulder

Today Texas A&M officials announced EmpowerU, a program aimed at monitoring the system’s efficiency at graduating its students.

Essentially, EmpowerU is A&M’s new public analytical website. It aggregates statistics of all student progress, and presents its data online. The idea is that individual institutions will set their own goals for improvement. EmpowerU’s website will publicly hold them accountable to quality of education and cost efficiency, benchmarking peer institutions against each other.


The University of Texas System Board of regents voted unanimously this morning to join an initiative to provide free online courses to anyone through a non-profit organization called edX.

Right now, classes offered through edX are not for college credit. Instead, participants can earn a "certificate of mastery." But the UT System has plans to change that in order to help enrolled students take the classes they need.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa says that option would have a cost associated with it.

“What that tuition might be is going to have to be a decision made by the campus and, ultimately, by the board of regents," Cigarroa says. "So I can envision a multi-tiered approach. But, fundamentally, all the content that we provide in this massively open online course, you can have access for free, I can have access for free, our alumni can have access for free. But there’s also an opportunity for a multi-tiered approach.”

The U.S. Supreme Court returns on Wednesday to the emotional issue of affirmative action in higher education. The court will once again hear oral arguments on the issue, this time in a case from the University of Texas.

Over the past 35 years, the court has twice ruled that race may be one of many factors in determining college admissions, as long as there are no racial quotas. Now, just nine years after its last decision, the justices seem poised to outright reverse or cut back on the previous rulings.

Jerod Foster for Texas Tribune

Ashton Curlee, the ambitious daughter of two teachers, received official notification of her acceptance to the new Texas Science Scholar Program at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin on the first day of college.

“It’s a really awesome program,” said Curlee, a native of Monahans. “There’s a lot of good stuff that comes along with it.”

Savings top that list. If Curlee stays on track, maintaining a 3.0 grade point average and completing 30 hours of course work each school year, she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2016. Instead of paying more than $6,300 per academic year in tuition and fees — the current cost for a regular student — Curlee will pay $2,500 per year.

That adds up to a $10,000 degree, a notion that has taken on grail-like status in some Texas higher education circles as the state struggles to address rising tuition at its public universities.

Shannan Muskop, Texas Tribune

A report from the Texas Education Agency on the state's 2012 SAT scores shows two things about Texas students over the past five years: more students are the taking the test, but they aren't performing as well.

More students are taking the college admissions test — especially Hispanics and blacks, whose participation rates have increased by 65 and 42 percent, respectively, since 2007. Students' scores, though, decreased from 2o11 by about five points across the board in reading, math and writing, continuing the downward trend of the past five years. 

“We are clearly building a college-going culture in Texas. The increased minority participation is important to the health of this state because of our changing demographics,” said Commissioner Michael Williams in a statement.

About 58 percent of 2012's graduating class took the SAT, which was about a 6 percent increase from the year before.

Spencer Selvidge, Texas Tribune

Texas Governor Rick Perry says he'll call for a four-year college tuition freeze. The comment was made at a Q&A session with Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith at the Texas Tribune Festival this weekend.

In the interview, Perry proposed that students who enter college as freshmen could lock in a four-year tuition rate, says Texas Tribune Reporter Jay Root, who live-blogged the event. However, if a student takes longer than four years to graduate, he or she could face tuition increases.

Perry also said he is open to an “open and vigorous debate” about in-state tuition costs and supported providing in-state tuition for some children of undocumented immigrants.

Perry's announcement came just a day before The Dallas Morning News announced that Texas students are paying 55 percent more for tuition and fees at state universities than they were a decade ago. According to the analysis, tuition has increased three percent this year alone.

University of Texas

The University of Texas announced yesterday that it will not launch a formal investigation into a controversial study on gay parenting.

The study, written by associate professor Mark Regnerus and published in the journal Social Science Research, questioned the parenting abilities of gay couples. An internal audit by Social Science Research found the study was “severely flawed.” Others seized upon the fact that the research was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, two socially conservative groups.

But UT-Austin says a four-member advisory panel composed of senior faculty members concluded there is not enough evidence to warrant an investigation.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

One of Austin’s biggest employers is getting ready to hand out raises.

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers says merit-based pay increases for faculty and staff will go into effect Sept. 1.

The salary increases will vary by department and Powers says they aren’t huge – but will help the university hang on to talented faculty and staff.

Photo courtesy Generation Texas

UT Austin football great Vince Young is back in town today to promote higher education.

Young is the spokesperson for Generation Texas — a group that asked everyone to wear their favorite college t-shirt today in hopes of inspiring high school grads to pursue a college degree.

Young, of course, is sporting a Longhorns t-shirt. He spoke to students at Del Valle High School this morning and told KUT they seemed excited about the possibility of going to college.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, eager to get an education under the new post-Sept. 11 GI Bill.

Many vets looking for a school find they are inundated by sales pitches from institutions hungry for their government benefits. Now, lawmakers are looking for ways to protect vets without narrowing their education choices.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

How to boost graduation rates at the University of Texas? More student monitoring and orientation, decreased summer course fees, and increased tuition for students that have over-accumulated credits.

Those are some of the recommendations from UT’s Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates, compiled in a report issued today.

Photo by KUT News.

Report: UT Professors Provide Good Return on Investment

In the midst of an ongoing debate about how efficiently Texas colleges and universities manage taxpayer money, UT Austin has released a report saying its instructors generate nearly twice as much revenue through research funding and educational dollars as they cost the state in salary and benefits.

The report, authored by College of Liberal Arts Associate Dean Marc Musick, analyzes data released earlier this year by the UT System. A UT press release highlights some of the report's key findings:

  • All instructors generated about $658 million in teaching and research-related revenue in 2009-10. They were paid about $318 million in salary and benefits from state funds.
  • On average, tenured and tenure track faculty members earn $129,000 in salary and benefits from state funds, and each generates $280,000 in educational and research funding.
  • Among the one-fifth of instructors who teach the most semester credit hours, 56.8 percent are tenured and tenure track faculty members. Of those who teach the fewest semester credit hours, 77.2 percent are graduate students or non-tenured faculty.

While the report points out some successes, it also says UT can do better. It lists recommendations to push productivity higher, such as providing incentives to reward faculty who apply for grants and reconsidering the teaching mix to make sure there is a good balance of large and small classes.

Bluesman Doyle Bramhall Sr. Passes Away

Singer, songwriter and blues drummer Doyle Bramhall Senior passed away over the weekend at his home in Alpine. Bramhall was a key figure in helping establish Austin’s blues scene in the 70's. He wrote and co-wrote several songs for Stevie Ray Vaughan and released three of his own albums.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

Thomas Lindsay, the man recently selected to head the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Higher Education, is no stranger to controversy. That may be considered an asset in the position, given the foundation’s role in igniting much of the debate that has gripped Texas higher ed this year.

Photo by Our Lady of Disgrace http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmocopymonkey/

What was expected to be a routine vote on a state proposition to extend a low interest student loan program may have run into a political buzz-saw called the Texas Tea Party.

On November 8, Texans will be asked to vote on ten ballot propositions. Proposition 3 would allow the state to issue up to $1.86 billion in bonds to finance student loans.

KUT News

Perry, UT Dean at Odds over Higher Ed Changes

Texas Governor Rick Perry is responding to a report from a dean at UT Austin.  The dean’s report criticizes proposals from an Austin-based think tank.  The governor backs those proposals which include splitting research and teaching budgets and giving state higher education funding directly to students instead of universities.