University of Texas regents approve $10 million for student success program

The University of Texas' eight institutions will have to have "quantum-worthy" proposals that will improve graduation rates to get a piece of the $10 million the board of regents approved Thursday.

This new student success program, pitched Thursday during the board of regents meeting, is part of Chancellor Bill McRaven's nine Quantum Leaps, a series of initiatives the chancellor launched in 2015.

UT's graduation rates across all eight campuses are low, something McRaven said he wants to change.

In 2016, UT Austin had the highest percentage of students graduating in four years or less at 60.9 percent, an increase of 3.1 percent from the previous year, according to a news release. The university wants to reach a 70 percent graduation rate this year.

The $10 million approved by regents Thursday will be divided in two ways to improve student success: through metric-driven proposals pitched by and applied to individual institutions, and through four keystone projects.

The key to the program's success is in the data collected, McRaven said.

"Week by week, month by month, we are now going to measure the progress at the institutions because we’ll have this constant feedback loop," he told regents Thursday. "This is clearly the program that will make the most difference at the campuses."

Results should be seen in increased graduation rates four to six years after the program is implemented, said Rebecca Karoff, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Keystone Project 1: Graduation Help Desks

Already a success at the Austin campus, this program establishes a one-stop shop for helping students get into the classes they need to graduate. Karoff said it is a mostly virtual program and will not require too many staff resources. It is also a great data collection. She estimates it will cost $1.79 million of the $10 million to fund the program for four years at the other seven UT institutions.

Keystone Project 2: Student Success Compacts

This project will allow students to enter into an agreement that says they can graduate in four years if they satisfy certain requirements, including taking 30 semester credit hours per year, maintaining a certain grade point average, regularly meeting with their adviser and following a preapproved degree plan. If students meet these requirements and still do not graduate in four years, the university will pay the difference in tuition.

Keystone Project 3: Student Engagement Initiatives

UT institutions will be able to create "High-Impact Practices," or engaged learning experiences, such as on-campus employment, internships, undergraduate research, capstone experiences and study abroad programs.

Keystone Project 4: Emergency Grant Funds

This project helps students who are struggling with one-time financial difficulties. "This is really designed to help that student who commutes to campus every day from their hometown 30 miles away, and their car breaks down and they can no longer get to campus," Karoff said. Funds would be around $200-$300 per emergency, she said.

How is the program funded? 

The one-time, $10 million allocation comes from UT's Internal Lending Program, which is funded by the institutions' available revenues for debt. These surplus funds are not guaranteed year to year, McRaven said, but "I think we can make some assumptions [the surplus funds] can be there for the long term."