AUSTIN (KXAN) - University of Texas President William Powers greeted incoming freshmen at their orientation Wednesday with a bit of a recommendation: Get your diploma, and get it in four years.
"It is concerning to us and your parents," said Powers when talking about the cost of higher education.
Powers told students that academic planning will help them graduate in four years and help save money on tuition.
"We have reworked our orientation to make academic planning a central part of it," said Powers, who added that advisors will play a key role in keeping students on a timely degree plan.
Currently, about 53 percent of students graduate within four years. Powers hopes the incoming class of 2016 will raise that number to 70 percent.
Students changing majors and bottlenecks due to academic cuts are some of the reasons given for students graduating after four years.
Achieving that ambitious graduation goal
Unveiled Feb. 15, the No. 1 incentive for the plan is to save money -- for parents, students, the university and taxpayers.
"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.
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.
- 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 mid-February report.
The freezing and near-freezing rain that swooped into Central Texas overnight prompted numerous school closings and delays and made for a harrowing morning commute on Friday.
A man is expected to survive after being stabbed in the head at the Salvation Army shelter in Downtown Austin at about 3:45 a.m. Friday.
As the Austin area prepares itself for an impending winter storm on Friday, Dec. 6, many schools have already announced delays.
Investigators are looking into an overnight fire that left one woman with third-degree burns.
Caldwell County residents gathered Thursday evening to organize their fight against a proposed landfill that they say poses a hazard that they don't need.
The pastor of the Austin church attended by the teacher who was killed Thursday in Benghazi remembered him as a spiritual friend dedicated to improving the lives of others.