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Texas Proposes Plan for Students to Complete College on Time

Staying in college more than four years is costly. Students want to get done to save money; schools want to improve their graduation rates.

The University of Texas at Austin has come up with recommendations — 60 of them — to help get students to the finish line sooner. A Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates released a report Wednesday that outlined strategies it hopes will encourage 70 percent of undergrads to earn their degrees within four years by 2016.

Now, about half of all undergraduates at the campus earn a degree within four years; 75 percent finish in five years and more than 80 percent graduate within six years. Nationally, about 57.7 percent of students at four-year public universities finish within six years, according to the College Board.

Among the task force ideas to encourage students to earn degrees more quickly:

• requiring orientation for all incoming first-year students;
• creating an online tool for students and advisers to monitor progress toward a degree;
• developing more intervention programs to help students in academic jeopardy;
• helping students commit to a major and avoid adding a second major;
• creating flat-rate summer tuition to encourage students to take more courses;
• increasing tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits;
• identifying courses with limited space that makes it difficult for students to get the needed credits for graduation;
• requiring all first-year students live in university housing in their first year;
• not allowing students to change their major or college after four long semesters in
residence without showing they can graduate in four years;
• exploring ways to lower the net price of attendance to low income and at-risk students;
• generating more on-campus undergraduate jobs;
• providing mandatory academic support (e.g., tutoring, academic counseling) for freshman receiving financial aid.

"Timely graduation benefits every constituent in the educational chain, from parents and students to professors and administrators," said University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers in a written statement. "What's more, it represents a major savings for students in an age of concern over rising costs."

The university plans to adopt some of the recommendations immediately; others will require policy changes and will be considered over time.

To come up with the ideas, the 14-member task force met over six months and consulted with students, faculty, advisers, and other universities with success in timely graduation.

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