Most UT Austin Forty Acres Scholars Major in Plan II or Business Honors

The most prestigious scholarship–a rare “full ride”–at the University of Texas at Austin is the Forty Acres award. Only 15-20 of these scholarships are granted in any given year. One notable fact about the scholarships is that more than half are awarded to Plan II Honors and/or Business Honors Students. One of the most common majors of Forty Acres Scholars is the combined Plan II/Business Honors major.

Bear in mind that Plan II only has about 700 students out of 39,000 undergrads on the UT Campus, which was originally assigned to, yes, forty acres of land in Austin. About three quarters of all Forty Acres Scholars are in some kind of honors program, with Plan II predominating. Others are engineering honors and the Turing Scholars program for computer science.

Both Plan II and Business Honors are highly selective. In this post on UT’s Business Honors Program, we wrote that by “’highly qualified’ we mean enrolled students with an average ACT of 33, and SAT of 1477 (higher than the 1466 average for the Wharton School at Penn), and an average high school class standing in the top 2.27%.”

For Plan II, the admissions statistics show that enrolled students in 2014 had middle 50 percent SAT scores of 2090–2270 and middle ACT scores of 32–34.

It is likely that many Forty Acres Scholars have even more impressive credentials. The most recent group of scholars with Plan II, Business Honors, or both majors is below:

Susie and John L. Adams Forty Acres Scholarship
Henry Boehm
Majors: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Honors Programs: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Hometown: Waco, TX
High School: Vanguard College Preparatory School

Ray and Denise Nixon Forty Acres Scholarship
Michael Everett
Major: Business Honors
Honors Program: Business Honors
Hometown: Southlake, TX
High School: Carroll Senior High School

BHP Forty Acres Scholarship
Chevron Enrichment Award
Alejandra Flores
Major: Business Honors
Honors Program: Business Honors
Hometown: Laredo, TX
High School: United South High School

Sarah M. and Charles E. Seay Forty Acres Scholarship
Chandler Groves
Majors: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Honors Programs: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Hometown: Southlake, TX
High School: Carroll Senior High School

Elizabeth Shatto Massey Forty Acres Scholarship
Mandy Justiz
Majors: Biochemistry; Plan II Honors
Honors Programs: Dean’s Scholars; Plan II Honors
Hometown: Austin, TX
High School: St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Barbara and Alan Dreeben Forty Acres Scholarship
Seth Krasne
Majors: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Honors Programs: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Hometown: El Paso, TX
High School: Coronado High School

Charline and Red McCombs Family Forty Acres Scholarship
Alex Rabinovich
Majors: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Honors Programs: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Hometown: McAllen, TX
High School: McAllen Memorial High School

Lowell Lebermann Scholarship
Francesca Reece
Majors: Government; Plan II Honors
Honors Program: Plan II Honors
Hometown: Euless, TX
High School: Trinity High School

Madison Charitable Foundation Forty Acres Scholarship
Audrey Urbis
Majors: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Honors Programs: Business Honors; Plan II Honors
Hometown: Brownsville, TX
High School: Los Fresnos High School

 

University of Texas Chancellor Opposes Top 10 Percent Admission Rule

As a former Navy Seal and admiral in command of all U.S. Special Operations forces, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven spent three decades serving and leading the most elite military forces in the world. He has made it clear that he now wants the state flagship to join the best of the best among the nation’s public universities.

But after seeing the system flagship turn away thousands of the state’s elite students because they did not make the top 10 percent (actually 7 percent at UT Austin this year) in the graduating classes of the state’s most competitive high schools, the chancellor sees the automatic admission rule as a major obstacle to keeping the brightest students in Texas–and at UT Austin.

“Candidly, right now what is holding us back is the 10 percent rule,” McRaven told state higher ed leaders recently.

The motives of the Top 10 proponents are certainly worthy–to increase the enrollment of high-achieving minority students at UT Austin. But what makes the rule (sort of) work is that it is predicated on the fact that many of the state’s high schools remain almost entirely segregated. Sometimes this is because an entire region is heavily Latino (the Rio Grande Valley); but elsewhere the segregation in urban centers is based on race and income.

Many of these high schools are among the least competitive in the state. Graduating in the top 7 percent of a high school that offers no AP or honors sections and that has low mean test scores is far different from reaching the top 7 percent of a graduating class of 800 students that has 70 National Merit Scholars.

What can happen to suburban students at very competitive schools is that an unweighted high school GPA of 3.9 (high school rank top 11 percent) and an SAT score of 1440 might not make the cut at UT Austin. Three-fourths of the school’s admits are from the top 7 percent pool; the other 25 percent of admits face a pool that is as competitive as many of the nation’s most selective private colleges.

And, McRaven would say, too many of these students are going out of state, where it costs them more and where they might remain rather than return to Texas. Moreover, the chancellor believes the rule is part of the reason that UT Austin, despite having a stellar faculty, is not rated as highly as it should be among the nation’s public universities.

“Candidly, I think we need to take a hard look at some of the ways that we address higher education, particularly at our flagship program. Your flagship, your number one university in the state of Texas is ranked 52nd on the U.S. News & World Report. To me that’s unacceptable. A lot of things drive that. The 10 percent rule drives that,” he told higher ed leaders.

While he did not specify exactly how the rule contributes to lower rankings, the graduation rate metric used by U.S. News might be lower for UT Austin in part because of the relatively lower standards in many poor and mostly segregated high schools. (It is possible that the chancellor also sees the large size of UT Austin as another issue.)

If the chancellor can find a way to maintain or improve minority enrollment and do away with the Top 10 rule, he might prevail. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not scrap the university’s current holistic admissions policy for students outside the top 7 percent, he might have a better chance; otherwise, his task will be as difficult as many he faced as a military leader.

“[The Top 10 Rule] is a very very sensitive topic,” State Rep. Robert Alonzo told McRaven. “It is a topic that we have discussed at length from all different aspects, and I would hope that we have put it to rest for a while.”

McRaven was undeterred. “I am a new chancellor, so I am going to take that opportunity to re-open that look again,” he said. “Because my charge is to make us the very best, and I think there are some obstacles to doing that.”

Alonzo replied: “Well, I accept the challenge, sir.”

Stay tuned, for this could be a big battle indeed.

Honors News: August 20, 2015–Is Class Rank a Disappearing Metric?

Of great importance to college applicants in some states (Texas, especially) high school class rank is of paramount importance. Texas high school grads ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes (top 7% at UT Austin for 2015) gain automatic acceptance to state schools, with UT Austin capping automatic admissions at 75% of the total freshman class.

According to the National Association of College Admissions C0unselors (NACAC), only 15% of colleges now consider class rank on its own to be of “considerable importance.”

“It’s disappearing as a metric,” says Lee Coffin, a NACAC member and dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts.

NACAC reports that “a student’s grades in college-prep classes is considered the top factor in college admission decisions, followed by the strength of their curriculum, test scores and overall grade-point average, data show.

“The shift away from class rank is related, in part, to the widespread adoption of weighted grades for students who take honors or advanced classes.

“High school officials ‘want students to focus on their own accomplishments without worrying so much where they fall in the pecking order,’ writes reporter Moriah Balingit of the Washington Post. ‘And with the proliferation of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses — which can boost a student’s grade-point average above a 4.0 — emphasizing rank could push students to overload themselves during their high school years.'”

In the case of UC Berkeley, students who are in the top 9% of statewide high school grads, or in the top 9% of their own high school class, meet only a basic threshold for admission. They must still met the “holistic” requirements of UC Berkeley, which include the following:

    • Your weighted and unweighted grade point average (calculated using 10th and 11th grade UC-approved courses only)
    • Your planned 12th grade courses
    • Your pattern of grades over time
    • The number of college preparatory, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), honors and transferable college courses you have completed
    • Your level of achievement in those courses relative to other UC applicants at your school
    • Your scores on AP or IB exams
    • Your scores on the ACT plus writing or the SAT reasoning test.

These additional requirements go a long way toward ensuring that UC Berkeley students in the top 9% also have other credentials that point toward high academic achievement, especially success with rigorous courses (AP, etc).

Using an automatic percentage as the basis for admission absent additional requirements that evaluate the real academic quality of high school courses is problematic.

One reason is that it encourages some students to transfer to a high school with easier classes and less competition in order to improve class standing.

Another reason is that the test scores of students admitted via automatic admission are somewhat lower; in the case of UT Austin, automatic admits averaged 28 on the ACT, while holistic admits had an average ACT of 30.

The result is a sense of unfairness among students who have completed rigorous coursework at more competitive high schools, made excellent grades, earned high test scores, but not quite made it to the top 10%, or 7% in the case of UT Austin. (UT Austin will admit the top 8% in 2016.)

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

UT Austin Business Honors Program: A Great Launching Pad

The McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin consistently ranks among the leaders in the nation for both undergraduate and MBA programs, but the Business Honors Program (BHP) for highly qualified applicants can lead to jobs and salaries that rival those of the leading private university business schools.

And when we say “highly qualified” we mean enrolled students with an average ACT of 33, and SAT of 1477 (higher than the 1466 average for the Wharton School at Penn), and an average high school class standing in the top 2.27%.

The acceptance rate for the incoming class of 2015 was 17.6%, with total applications of 1,354.

The overall program size is approximately 500 students, with 120-130 enrolled students in each class year.

The McCombs School as a whole has ten business specialty programs ranked in the top 10, according to U.S News: Accounting (1), Marketing (3), Management Information Systems (4), Finance (5), Management (6), Real Estate (7), Entrepreneurship (8), Insurance (9), Production and Operations Management (9), and Quantitative Analysis (9). This means that students can change their minds about a business specialty and still receive equivalent classroom opportunities.

Another key factor is that BHP students can also jointly enroll in the nationally renowned Plan II honors program.  Indeed, the Plan II-BHP combination is chosen by about one-third of BHP students.

If the qualifications of students and quality of specialty programs in the BHP are as high as most other business schools, so are the salaries earned upon graduation, with a mean salary of $65,879 for 2014 grads. And the placement rate for grads seeking full-time employment: 100% for the last four years.

Additional features include classes that are significantly smaller than regular undergrad business classes. BHP classes are capped at 40 students per section; many have 20-25 students enrolled. The case study approach used by many MBA programs is also used in a lot of the BHP classes.

According to the BHP, its 2015 graduates “went to work for the top banks, consulting firms, accounting firms, tech firms and others. They are now working for Credit Suisse, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, Boston Consulting Group, E&Y, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, Facebook, Amazon, Visa, Shell, Chevron, Southwest Airlines, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, 3M, General Electric, and the like.

“They are starting their own businesses and working for nonprofits in India. They are going to med school, law school, and graduate business schools. The BHP degree is a versatile degree and a great launching pad for many different industries and pursuits.”

Scott Walker vs. The Wisconsin Idea

Editor’s Note: The following is one of our relatively rare opinion pieces.

Another presidential election year is approaching, and another presidential candidate is taking aim at the public university system in his state, and boasting of his budget cuts and alleged reforms.

This time around it’s Scott Walker of Wisconsin; in 2012 it was Rick Perry of Texas.

Opportunistic politicians and ideologues found major public universities to be an easy target for criticism and budget cuts during the great recession, and governors long opposed to the “liberalism” in higher ed embraced the opportunity to whack away at funding for research and disciplines they didn’t like.

In the aftermath of the recession, the partisan ideology driving attacks on public higher education remains strong, and in the state of Wisconsin, Scott Walker has doubled down on efforts to cut funding for the University of Wisconsin system even as other states are reinvesting in their own universities.

Rick Perry embarked on a similar crusade against the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems several years ago, only to be outwitted and ultimately defeated by staunch supporters of both systems. Like Walker, Perry sought to bring a business model to the higher education systems, and by business he meant the interests of business: sacrificing the intellectual impact of higher education to the immediate and often shortsighted “needs” of business and industry.

Productivity was the buzzword in Texas, and the biggest enemies of productivity were the disciplines that brought in little money and allegedly offered no vocational advantage to students: the humanities and social sciences.

The latest developments in Wisconsin are that the UW system now has $250 million less in the current state budget, and some safeguards protecting faculty and academic programs have been eroded. That this is happening in Wisconsin is of special concern because “The Wisconsin Idea,” enshrined in state law for more than a century, articulated a high and noble purpose for public universities.

“The legislature finds it in the public interest to provide a system of higher education…” the state statute begins, but a Walker staffer proposed deleting this opening clause and replacing it with “There is created a system of higher education…”, as if placing the public interest at the forefront of the statute somehow overlooked a more important purpose.

That more important purpose becomes clear in the next section, where the staffer wrote that the primary mission of the UW system was “to meet the state’s workforce needs,” rather than “to discover and disseminate knowledge.” The staffer then struck these final words of the section:

“Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

In the end, the proposed changes did not take hold following media scrutiny and public opposition; but the changes in the language illustrate just how far the discovery of knowledge, improving the human condition, and the search for truth have fallen in the eyes of self-serving ideologues.

This is not to say that universities, public and private, should not offer majors that have a clear vocational focus. UW Madison certainly does so, with high ranking programs in both business and engineering. The reformers would doubtless see these as ways to improve the individual’s condition economically, and thereby worth funding. But what about the individual’s sense of values, understanding of the nation’s past, appreciation of both the threats and advances of other cultures? What about research that improves health care, legal services, and education?

UW Madison now faces the loss of about 400 employees as a result of the budget cuts. The tenure protection once guaranteed by state statute has now been watered down as part of a move to make the system operate more like a corporation, with greater freedom to define and limit programs and cut faculty positions. Guess which programs will suffer? Not business, not engineering, not the hard sciences perhaps, but those pesky humanities and social sciences with all their unsettling ideas and pointed references to the lessons and values of the past.

Yes, these disciplines can wander far afield on occasion and come up with what are, or appear to be, bizarre arguments and interpretations. But here’s the thing: you never know where the most important ideas and insights will come from, and limiting the scope of higher education to vocational pursuits is far riskier than allowing scholars in all the major disciplines to pursue their research.

Ideologues are quick to urge bright students to attend elite private universities, all of which encourage and, often, lavishly fund research in all disciplines. Can you imagine Harvard without strong departments in English, history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology? Yale? Chicago? Does anyone seriously believe these schools would retain their generally deserved credibility if they were to make it their primary mission “to meet workforce needs”? They exist to challenge bright students in all major areas of inquiry. The result: leaders not only in “the workforce” but also in every other facet of life.

It is weirdly shortsighted that the governor of Wisconsin, a state without a high-profile private university, does not want the citizens of the state to have reasonable access to the highest levels of education. Like other “reformers,” he seems to operate under the assumption that there are enough elite private schools to accommodate the smartest students, even if they have to go out of state. (And, if UW Madison is significantly reduced, they will. Surely the governor can appreciate the power of a “brand” and what happens when it is lost. )

But in fact there are not enough prominent private universities to provide places for all the brightest students, and why would a governor promote policies that tend to drive these students out of his state anyway?

Thus do political opportunism and ideology lead ultimately to the worst kind of academic outcome: a brain drain.

The Top 10 Percent Rule in Texas: Highly Questionable Results

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the most recent issue of The Alcalde, the alumni publication of the University of Texas at Austin. The automatic admission of a student in the top 10 percent of  his or her high school class, in place since 1997, has had unintended consequences for minority students and non-minority students alike.

By 2008, more than 80 percent of incoming freshman at UT-Austin were admitted under the [10 percent] rule, leaving the university to choose less than 20 percent of its own incoming class. Then-chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and UT-Austin president Bill Powers appealed to the 2009 Texas Legislature to cap automatic admissions at 50 percent of each incoming class. Without action, they predicted, UT wouldn’t be able to admit any students from outside the U.S. or Texas by 2015.

Legislators intervened specifically for UT-Austin, but compromised on a 75 percent cap. Since then, the university has admitted the top one percent, two percent, and so on until it reached the cap, which means that for the incoming class of 2019, UT-Austin’s top 10 Percent Law is really a top eight percent rule.

As ProPublica notes, the competition for non-automatic admission to UT in 2008 was tougher than getting into Harvard.

While applications from minority students more than doubled in the first 10 years of the law, its success is still debatable. A 2012 Princeton study of UT and Texas A&M concluded that the law actually benefited white students more than Hispanic students. While test scores rose at smaller state universities, applicants at the flagships came from more affluent, less diverse high schools and graduates from poorer schools, particularly Hispanic graduates, were less likely to apply.

In a state-required report compiled in the fall of 2014, UT officials noted that between 2013-14, African-American and Hispanic representation actually decreased, as did the number of admitted and enrolled first-generation students and those from lower socioeconomic groups.

One of the barriers to coming to UT, presumably, is cost. If, for example, you come from San Perlita, at Texas’ southern tip, where more than half of residents under 18 live below the poverty line, heading more than 300 miles north just to pay tuition, rent, and buy books for at least four years is a daunting prospect. In response to the declining numbers from populations meant to be served by the law, UT has launched the Texas Advance scholarship program, which the university says could essentially offset tuition when paired with state and federal aid.

While a handful of bills relating to the rule have been filed during the 2015 legislative session, only one would fundamentally change it, even then only altering it to automatically admit students from the top eight percent. That rule wouldn’t change much at UT, which is already essentially a top eight percent institution. Despite questions of its effect and effectiveness, it seems the law will stick around, at least for a while.

 

UT Austin Alum Leaves $35 Million to Engineering School for Scholarships

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from Alcalde, the alumni magazine of the University of Texas at Austin.

The late T.W. “Tom” Whaley, Ph.D. ’68, who quietly served his country in the CIA during the Cold War, surprised UT leaders this year with a $35 million bequest to create engineering scholarships at the Cockrell School of Engineering.

In 2014-15, the new endowment’s first year, 34 students from across Texas will receive Whaley Scholarships and pursue studies in all seven engineering departments at the Cockrell School.

“Dr. Whaley’s parents instilled in him the value of an education, and he wanted young Texans to have the same opportunities to learn and contribute to their state and nation,” said Whaley’s attorney and friend David Anderson, the executor of his estate. “I believe he made this extraordinary gift to change these students’ lives.”

The T.W. Whaley, Jr. Friends of Alec Endowed Scholarship is now one of the largest endowments for undergraduate and graduate financial aid at the Cockrell School. The endowment, projected to provide $1.6 million in annual merit scholarships and fellowships, increases the school’s total scholarship and fellowship funding by 25 percent.

Incoming freshman Marshall Tekell is from Whaley’s hometown of Waco. “Receiving the Whaley Scholarship changed my life in a radical way,” said Tekell, who plans to major in chemical engineering. “Not only does it remove an enormous burden from my family, it allows me to envision my education far into the future. Dr. Whaley gave me the freedom to follow his example.”

He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from UT Austin where he studied signal strength of electromagnetic waves, and he was recruited by the CIA after graduation because of his expertise in antenna technology. Later, he returned to Texas to help manage his family’s farm, which he helped expand to 4,000 acres. Whaley’s wealth originated from oil and gas royalties, and it grew as he accumulated and oversaw a portfolio of stocks and bonds.

 

How Does It Feel to Win the $250,000 Hertz Fellowship…Plus Two Others?

Editor’s note:  The following article by Dorothy Guerrero appeared in Alcalde, the alumni magazine of UT Austin….

Maybe you’ve had this nightmare: Dressed in a suit and tie, you sit at a table across from two geniuses who are exalted in their field. You’re in a room on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., and the walls are made of glass, so everyone in the hallway can see you sweat. There’s a big stack of paper in the middle of the table and a couple of pens on either side to use if you need to draw a schematic to explain a concept. There is no way to cram for this oral exam because you are not being tested on something you have learned—but on everything you have ever learned.

No? Well it actually happened last March to Ashvin Bashyam, BS ’14, who managed to pass the daunting interview during his senior year at UT and win the Hertz fellowship for graduate education in the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences. It’s a five-year award, valued at $250,000. He was one of only 15 students in the nation selected for the fellowship and the university’s fourth since 2011.

Bashyam was a researcher in UT’s Ultrasound Imaging and Therapeutics Research Laboratory, where he focused on improving cancer detection through advanced medical imaging. Geoffrey Luke, PhD ’13, who mentored Bashyam in the lab, says he knew he was special right away.

“Any time you are describing something to him,” Luke says, “he’s usually one step ahead. A student like Ashvin doesn’t come around very often.”

The goal of the Hertz interview is for the candidate to prove that he can think creatively and apply what he knows on the fly to unsolved problems. A panel of past winners asks open-ended, hypothetical questions.  Bashyam remembers being stressed out, but for the most part he felt he was doing well—until one question tripped him up.

“Imagine we are in the future of health care,” said one of his interrogators. “Fifteen to 20 years from now, and every disease is managed except for very early stage cancers. Those are still unstoppable until we can see them. So come up with a way for a hospital to screen every patient walking in … Go.”

Bashyam’s first attempt at an answer had something to do with using X-ray and MRI, but the panel interrupted him right away and told him to think more ambitiously.

“I started off recalling what I’d done in lab where we learn how cancer at its somewhat early stages starts to recruit blood vessels and raises the overall temperature in that area,” Bashyam says. “It’s a process called angiogenesis.”

So he threw out a proposal for a kind of imaging technique that looks for increased blood vessel density, or maybe changes in hemoglobin concentration.

“Nope,” they said, cutting him off again, “We’re talking about earlier.”

Good Fellow

That’s when Bashyam had to dig deeper and cast his thoughts wider than he had ever done before. He found himself talking about the immune system, which he says he knows very little about. He talked about inflammation, T-cells, and lymphocytes and then he said if we could somehow track the immune cells’ activity level, we would see it increase in response to cancer.

“I guess I must have said something intelligent,” he remembers, though still with a puzzled look on his face, “because eventually they nodded and we moved on.”

A few weeks after the interview, Bashyam got word that he’d won not just the Hertz, but also the National Science Foundation fellowship and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship.

“The Hertz alone is an amazing accomplishment for any individual and their school,” Luke says, “but then to get the other two as well, which are also very competitive … it’s a testament to Ashvin and how well he’s able to perform under pressure.”

This fall, Bashyam will return to the site of his interview to study medical engineering and medical physics as part of the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology. He’s looking forward to being in the middle of such a vibrant health-technology environment, where venture capital firms are supporting major innovations coming out of the program.

One day, he hopes to develop an implantable device that circulates around the body and looks for tumor cells. Anyone with any kind of cancer or risk factors could have one, and that, Bashyam says, would completely change the game.

“That’s a career goal,” he says with a grin.

UT Austin and Online Learning: Faculty Should Own Copyrights for Content They Create

The president of the University of Texas at Austin has developed five guiding principles for blended and online education, two of which bear directly on the critical question about the nature and extent of faculty ownership of the curriculum and faculty rewards for contributing to online learning.

The concerns of faculty are that online learning might have an adverse impact on the residential college experience, thereby affecting employment prospects, and that faculty involvement in developing content for online learning might not serve career aspirations as well as, say, book authorship, patents, or the publication of articles.

“Virtually all innovations in society are made by those doing the daily work,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers. “Put another way, they can be supported from the top, but they are developed from the bottom up. In our case, that means by the faculty. Our incentive structures need to encourage faculty innovation in this area. Just as faculty members who write textbooks or create devices benefit from their work, we should ensure that faculty who create online content can benefit, as well as their departments, colleges, and the University. Even when the University sponsors the creation of these resources, our general position should be that faculty own the copyrights for the content they create and grant licenses to the University to use and adapt their content, consistent with Regents’ Rules and the law.”

Powers endorses faculty and academic departmental control of the curriculum.  “Our faculty and academic units are responsible for ensuring that online resources, courses, certificates, and degrees reflect the content and rigor appropriate for a leading national university. Without compromising our deep commitment to the academic freedom of a world-class faculty, we should recognize that these technologies amplify the visibility and impact of individual faculty and staff as representatives of the University on a global scale. Our online curriculum should mirror the rigor of our traditional curriculum, and our online courses should feature the same high-caliber faculty.”

The other guiding principles include implementing online learning in a way that is financially sustainable; sharing content with university partners; and continuing to be innovative amid the rapid changes affecting pedagogy.

 

 

 


 


Risk or Predictability: UT System Fixed Tuition Proposal Is No Guarantee

Despite the failure of fixed tuition plans in Georgia and Michigan, and the dubious results of similar efforts in Illinois, the University of Texas System Board of Regents is following the wishes of Gov. Rick Perry and ordering all UT System campuses to come up with proposals to set four-year fixed tuition rates for future entering freshmen.

Perry has been pushing a variety of alleged reforms in Texas, most of them in line with recommendations from groups that have an ideological agenda that is a threat to excellence in public universities.  For the last year and a half, Perry and his followers on the System board, along with right-wing “think tanks,” such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, have been attacking UT Austin and its president, Bill Powers.

Because of this antagonistic relationship and the poor record of fixed tuition plans in other states, UT system schools should view the latest demand with considerable skepticism.  For one thing, when a university sets fixed tuition for four years for a given entering class, the institution has no way of knowing how much (or, more likely, how little) state funding will be allocated for the same period.  So what happens is that schools set modest fixed rates and run the risk of low-balling expenses or they set higher rates to hedge against cuts in state funding.

For this reason, it is typical for the initial implementation of fixed rates to yield somewhat higher tuition increases than would otherwise have been set.  Moreover, the subsequent entering classes are still subject to higher tuition rates than the class before it.

At the University of Illinois, where fixed tuition was implemented with the support of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2003, “fixed” tuition rose 9.5 percent for the class of 2010, over the previous class, and then rose another 4.8 percent for the class of 2011.  How much of this increase was needed to offset the fixed rates for previous classes is anybody’s guess.  And four-year graduation rates have not substantially improved, according to university officials.

In Georgia and Michigan, state universities had to forgo their fixed tuition plans because the volatility of state funding and the complexity of budget forecasting made the process to complex to sustain.   University officials emphasized that stable, continuing state funding support was necessary to successful implementation, but the financial crisis led to sharp cuts.

One motive for the UT System plan, aside from providing politicians with what appear to be nice talking points, could be a desire to make UT Austin more vulnerable to state decision-makers and micro-management, since the fixed plans will likely restrict institutional autonomy.

Perry and his supporters point to the UT Dallas as the exemplar of the fixed tuition approach.  While it is true that the four-year graduation rate for UT Dallas has increased from 46 to 51 percent since the implementation of the plan in 2007, it is also true that UT Dallas has the highest tuition of any public university in the state–14 percent higher than UT Austin and 31 percent higher than Texas A&M.

Supporters of fixed tuition say that UT Dallas has so many business and science majors that their costs are necessarily higher.  A review of the variable tuition rates at UT Austin confirms that students majoring in business pay about 6 percent more tuition than the average tuition at the school; engineering majors pay about 4.8 percent more.  Aside from nursing, these are the most expensive majors.

According to U.S. News, the most popular major at UT Dallas is, indeed, business, with 32 percent of students enrolled.  But at Texas A&M, 18 percent of students major in business, and another 14 percent in engineering.   Since there appears to be relatively little difference in the cost of educating business and engineering majors, both UT Dallas and Texas A&M have the same proportion of students in high-cost majors; yet average tuition at UT Dallas is much higher.

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who frequently follows Perry’s lead on university “reform,” is also advocating fixed tuition in Florida.  Ohio University is also looking at fixed tuition options.  Yet amid all the change in higher ed these days, no option is without risk, even (or especially) when the goal is predictability.