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U Texas System's $10 Million MyEdu Investment Hit by Controversy

In a controversial decision, the University of Texas System will be investing $10 million into a service intended to bolster student success among its 15 campuses. The UT System will be working with MyEdu, an Austin-based online service that provides information and tools to help students plan and manage their college experiences.

The agreement, which gives the UT System a 22.5 percent stake in the company, was approved by regents during a public meeting in August. However, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the deal was "surrounded in secrecy" and that the company has ties to former chancellor William Cunningham and his son. The elder Cunningham owns a $175,000 stake in MyEdu, and son John is a vice president for the privately held company.

The partnership announcement comes just about two months after Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa recommended an action plan to bolster excellence among the UT System's institutions. The first area of focus in the nine-point framework addresses student access and success.

In a statement about the investment, Cigarroa said, "Each student that is part of the UT system has a unique circumstance and individual hurdles to meet his or her specific academic goals. With millions of choices across degree programs and class schedules at each institution, college planning can be very complex. Our investment in MyEdu's academic platform will augment the efforts of our talented academic advisers and faculty, who work diligently with students and families to map out a successful path to graduation. MyEdu will help our students graduate in less time and significantly reduce their overall cost of education."

According to American Statesman, when pressed on whether he knew about the former chancellor's affiliation with the company, Cigarroa responded, "I have no knowledge of that, either. Nor was it pertinent to this agreement. We felt comfortable with exactly how this agreement went forward."

MyEdu includes programs for degree planning, credit management, workload tracking, and social networking, along with faculty reviews and class grade histories. The service offers the promise of reducing education costs by assisting students with tactics for avoiding additional semesters and reducing school and living expenses.

The initial rollout of the enhanced MyEdu platform is under way. The first institution to use the service will be UT Austin. However, student newspaper, The Daily Texan, reported that the partnership with the school was presented without input from the university only after the regents had voted on the decision. It quoted UT President William Powers Jr. as saying, "Would I have had different priorities for that money? Yes. We didn't choose to bring this to the campus."

The same article also quoted a UT Austin professor expressing faculty concern about some of the service's features, including the posting of class grade distribution, fearful that it would lead to grade inflation. The computer science professor told reporter Liz Farmer that ultimately MyEdu wouldn't improve graduate rates because the real issue was the need to hire additional faculty in order to open up more classes.

Under the regents' agreement, the platform will be customized for use across all UT System institutions in 2012.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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