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UT for Me students stand together on campus at UT Austin

UT for Me: College Success at Scale

Guest Author: KJ Harris

After more than 20 years at The University of Texas at Austin, I am still inspired by the promise this institution represents. Every year, thousands of new students make their way to the Forty Acres representing so many different places and walks of life. Each one of these students joins the Longhorn community with their own vision for how this experience will change their lives and how they will go on to change the world we live in.

Each of these students also arrives with their own set of personal circumstances. Family commitments. Academic struggles. Financial concerns. The challenges are unique to every student and often have helped shape the resilient, hardworking person that they are. But they can also be the factors that threaten to derail a student’s college journey.

UT for Me – Powered by Dell Scholars was created to address those individual challenges with highly individualized support. Launched in fall 2020 through a partnership between the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and UT Austin, the program dramatically expands support services for all Pell-eligible students at the university, starting with the fall 2020 freshman class. UT for Me is one way we’re striving to live up to our promise as an institution — to empower each student to fulfill their own vision for making the world a better place, with a college degree in hand.

One semester in, our small student success team is already supporting over 2,400 students. Read on to learn more about how the UT for Me program model provides college persistence support in a large university setting.

Understanding the Full Picture

At UT for Me, our ultimate goal is to help students reach graduation on time and with minimal debt. This requires a holistic understanding of each student’s circumstances. Our team is able to access university-wide resources and data systems including financial aid, registration, and academic advising, and students complete a survey at the beginning of each term to share responsibilities outside of school, their mindset, and long-term goals. Every student interaction contributes more information, captured from emails, text messages, or meetings with our team.

With so much data to sift through, we rely on technology to bring all this information together, provide a clear picture of each student, and help us put data in action. In our student management platform, team members can get up to speed on a complex intervention, quickly review a student’s file for a drop-in appointment, or identify retention risk factors to provide proactive, timely support.

Every staff member is able to access the same information, including a full history of the student’s interactions with the program. For a student with an urgent concern, that means no waiting for a particular program coordinator or financial aid officer — any team member can jump in to help. And next time they call, they will still be able to pick up right where they left off.

Technology makes it possible, but the real magic of UT for Me comes down to creating personal relationships and a student’s sense of belonging. Our students may be surprised when our team reaches out for the first time to ask why they missed their registration window or to offer support as they navigate academic probation. The program also offers students someone to turn to, no matter the challenges they are facing. We are invested in their success and there to help every step of the way.

Institutional Knowledge

It’s no secret that UT Austin is one of the largest schools in the country. At the undergraduate level, there are more than 170 fields of study across 13 colleges and schools. We’ve got over 1,300 student organizations, seven honors programs, and 15 career centers. That adds up to a ton of resources and opportunities — and our guidance can help students navigate their options. At UT for Me, it’s our job to be the experts on what this university has to offer and help students get connected.

Each program coordinator also takes responsibility for a set of colleges, building relationships with our colleagues and understanding the ins and outs of their students’ experiences. We know when the College of Natural Sciences is holding a career fair, how to manage academic probation in the College of Liberal Arts, and what academic resources are available to students in the McCombs School of Business. What’s more, if a particular college or program is better equipped to address the matter at hand, our team can make a seamless handoff and point students in the right direction.

The first year in college is a critical moment to lay the foundation for long-term success, which is why many existing programs address this need with mentorship and community. For Pell-eligible students, UT for Me complements this support and extends all the way through graduation. UT for Me is represented by students in nearly every college and program across the university. With this unique vantage point, we have an opportunity — and a responsibility — to advance systemic change and help fulfill our promise to each and every student. To see them through to graduation, so they can go on to make their mark.

“What starts here changes the world.” It’s the slogan of UT Austin as well as the vision of UT for Me. By recognizing each student’s individual circumstances and providing the right support system, we can ensure their household income isn’t the determining factor in whether or not they reach graduation.

We can’t wait to see what lies ahead for our incredible students, and how — together — we can hold higher education to a new standard of success.