AUSTIN (KXAN) - University of Texas graduate Austin Hatley received a copy of his transcript Friday morning -- proof of a long, academic journey on paper.
After earning his economics degree in August 2011, the 22-year-old is now on his way to graduate school. It's the step that comes after the more than four years it took to earn his bachelor's degree -- something he worked hard to achieve in exactly four years.
"That didn't work out, so I got a little behind and ended up having to take two classes in the summer to finish up on time," said Hatley.
Between transferring, a full schedule and packed classes that were difficult to get into, Hatley graduated with an extra semester under his belt.
Unveiled Wednesday, a UT report focuses on students like Hatley and strives to get students in and out within four years.
"I think the big issue right now is the fact that I think a lot of people are concerned about the rising costs of higher education," said David Ochsner, director of Public Affairs for the College of Liberal Arts.
Familiar with the initiative, Ochsner said one way to address the money factor is to make sure students complete their undergraduate degree within four years -- which saves tuition and living costs.
"The No. 1 incentive is to save money," said Ochsner. "Timely graduation saves money for students. It saves money for their parents. It saves money for the university, for the taxpayers. And it also gets students into the workforce more quickly."
More students graduating on time also means a fresh crop of students who can enroll.
Faculty, students and one administrator participated in the new push that targets narrowing the gap by 17 percent, increasing the four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016.
That number, in part, came from a look at peer institutions and their graduation rates.
UT has a higher four-year graduation rate than peer universities University of California-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin and Ohio State.
A look at the University of Michigan, however, showed its rate stood at 70 percent.
Although he admits "it's a little bit challenging," Ochsner said the goal is attainable -- particularly because UT already graduates 75 percent of its students in five- to six years.
Officials plan to tackle the graduation rate by taking a hard look at orientation, making sure students are using the school resources -- like advising and career services -- launching Finish@UT and other proposals, such as offering flat-rate summer tuition rates.
The new online bachelor's degree completion program offers students a flexible path to complete their undergraduate degree through three system institutions.
"I prefer to actually come to class and see the professor to get more of a hands-on experience, so I don't know if an online classroom would apply to me, per se," said Hatley. "But I mean, it could be useful. It could be a resource to people that don't have options to the actual campus."
- Taking a hard look at student orientation and the way the program itself is run. Officials want to prepare students for the rigors of a university education, and they said orientation is critical. Every incoming student will receive an orientation.
- Student integration. It's important students feel integrated into campus life.
- Gauging how successful students are in their first semester or two. It is one of the good predictors for graduating on time, since the first year is so critical. Ochsner said if students do well the first year, they will likely graduate on time.
It's all part of the dozens of ideas outlined in the Wednesday report.
Meanwhile, Hatley said he sees the purpose for the initiative.
"I think it promotes efficiency, I guess," said Hatley. "It kind of gets students through the system a little quicker."
UT President William Powers is reviewing the report and will be moving soon on the plan.
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