A Dubious Move by the University of Texas

If college and university officials finally want to solve
the longstanding problems ofmediocre
retention rates and pitiful graduation rates, then a magic, off-the-shelf
solution awaits them.

It’s called MyEdu, a private company that claims its website
will help colleges solve the problem of disappearing students. How? By
allowing students to see such titillating facts as professors’ official student
evaluations and the grade distributions for courses they teach.

Apparently, the University of Texas has bought the sales
job. According to Inside Higher Ed, the university’s board of regents was
smitten by MyEdu, investing $10 million — a 22 percent stakein the company — then ordering three UT
campuses to integrate the MyEdu scheme.

“It really is all about graduation rates,” Frank Lyman, a
senior vice president at MyEdu, told Inside Higher Ed. He noted that the
overall graduation rates for the UT system are just 50 percent. “The regents
have taken this as a key initiative, as a system, to address this.”

The investment is further muddled by accusations of insider
dealing. MyEdu’s co-founder, John Cunningham, is the son of William Cunningham,
a former chancellor of the UT system, who invested $175,000 in MyEdu, according
to the Austin American-Statesman. MyEdu officials vehemently deny any conflicts
of interest in the University of Texas deal.

While the conflict of interest accusations are inconclusive,
the evidence that the MyEdu system has a real chance of improving graduation
rates is even murkier.

That may be a polite way of saying, there is no evidence.

MyEdu itself has no peer-reviewed research backing up its
claims. Lyman acknowledged that the company’s promise of higher graduation
rates is “more of a hypothesis,” based on the “student popularity” of the
company’s website.

Nor does the Board of Regents have any evidence to justify
its investment.One UT-Austin faculty
leader, Alan Friedman, called the rationale for the deal “awfully speculative.”

If improving graduation rates were only so simple. Never
mind the array of student background factors and institutional characteristics
that really do predict graduation rates.
But that’s hard stuff, and it requires real investments in human capital.

Take that $10 million and hire some academic advisors and
other real human beings who can actually make a difference in students’ lives
and their likelihood of remaining at the University of Texas until graduation
day.

Or not. The Trojan Horse strategy is clever. Invest $10
million in an educational amusement park and help company investors get rich.
And then dress it all up as ” a key initiative,” a history-making enterprise to
shape the very future of the university.

Could university officials just admit it? Call the whole
deal an investment in the university endowment, and quit trying to fancy it up
with all the precious and useless speeches.

When it comes to serious ways to improve the university —
such as raising graduation rates – the University of Texas needs to get real.

Peter Sacks

Peter Sacks

Peter Sacks is an author, economist, essayist and social critic.

2 thoughts on “A Dubious Move by the University of Texas

  1. I was thinking that I was alone thinking in this way, so it is very positive that I was wrong, and I’m so happy about this. Big thanks to the writer and please write more in this vein!

  2. It’s worse than most think: Raising graduation rates is the easiest thing in the world! I can give you any graduation rate, retention rate, whatever rate, you please, and this scam will surely do the same.

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