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Analyzing flashpoints of debate concerning the flagship University of Texas, Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak credited UT’s president with greatly driving up student graduation rates.
Bill Powers, who has faced public questioning from members of the UT System Board of Regents, "has instituted reforms on his own," Mackowiak wrote in an opinion column published by the Austin American-Statesman on April 1, 2013. He added that UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had recently said Powers raised UT-Austin’s "four-year graduation rate from 53 percent to 75 percent."
We were unaware of such a spike since Powers took over as president in 2006.
After emailing Mackowiak about his conclusion, we turned to news stories on campus graduation rates as well as research cupboarded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
According to a June 7, 2012, American-Statesman article, Powers set a goal in 2011 of at least 70 percent of the fall 2012 entering class earning a degree within four years. In contrast, UT's graduation rate had lately ranged from about 46 percent in 2000 to nearly 53 percent in 2005, the story said, with the 51 percent rate for the class of 2011 proving to be the highest among the state's 38 public universities for that year.
A Feb. 12, 2013, Statesman news story said UT efforts to meet the goal "include stepped-up freshman orientation to reshape a campus culture that has long tolerated a more leisurely trajectory to graduation; the appointment of a senior vice provost to champion the four-year graduation cause; and the allotment of $5 million to encourage students to finish on time, with some of that money earmarked for financial aid to those making steady academic progress."
Next, we asked the coordinating board for its calculation of UT-Austin’s four-year graduation rates. Spokesman Dominic Chavez emailed us a spreadsheet indicating the rate has ranged from 52 percent in fiscal 2007, which began Sept. 1, 2006, about seven months into Powers’ tenure, to 53 percent in fiscal 2012, the year ending Aug. 31, 2012.
Chavez said each board calculation reflects the share of full-time students who enrolled in the fall of the year four years before, meaning the 2012 rate would sweep in students who had first enrolled in fall 2008 and graduated by the end of August 2012. Chavez said the reported rates may differ from other calculations because the board credits an institution where a student began his education even if the student has transferred and ultimately graduated elsewhere.
We also asked UT-Austin about its four-year graduation rates. Spokesman Gary Susswein emailed a spreadsheet indicating the four-year rate has improved from 51 to 52 percent through Powers’ presidency.
As we gathered this information, Mackowiak said by email that he picked up the graduation statistic from remarks by Cigarroa during a public interview by the Texas Tribune. In the March 28, 2013, interview, Cigarroa credited Powers for saying "we will increase the four-year graduation rate from 53 percent to 75 percent. And he put his neck out on the line and he’s going to do it."
On review, Mackowiak said, it’s clear the escalated four-year graduation rate is a goal. "It’s my mistake," he wrote. At Mackowiak's nudge, the American-Statesman published a correction of his column.
Mackowiak said UT-Austin’s president had driven four-year graduation rates to 75 percent.
However, the latest four-year graduation rate on the campus was no greater than 53 percent, compared to rates the same or a bit lower in the other full years of Powers’ presidency. The institution's declared goal is a four-year rate of at least 70 percent.
We rate the claim as False.
UPDATE, April 9, 2013: This story was updated to reflect the American-Statesman publishing a correction of Mackowiak's oped column. This did not affect our rating of his claim.
News articles on UT-Austin graduation rates, Austin American-Statesman, 2012 and 2013 (downloaded April 1, 2013)
Spreadsheet on UT-Austin graduation rates, fiscal 2005 through fiscal 2011 and emails, responses to PolitiFact Texas, Dominic Chavez, senior director, external relations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, April 1, 2013
Spreadsheet, "STUDENT FLOW FOR FIRST-TIME FRESHMEN, Fall and Summer Entrants Combined" (received from Gary Susswein, director of media relations, UT-Austin, April 1, 2013)
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