Texas will be forced to put the states economic growth at stake by
closing the doors to college opportunity for thousands of young people,
many of them Latino, unless leaders prioritize their goals for higher
education and develop a plan to pay for them, according to a new report
released by researchers at the University of Pennsylvanias Institute
for Higher Education Research.
Through its strategic plan, Closing the Gaps, Texas has garnered broad
public support for a set of statewide goals for higher education:
increasing college enrollment, raising the number of degrees awarded,
pushing the states colleges and universities up in the national
rankings, and luring more federal research dollars.
But the admirable goals Texas has set for itself are not compatible,
particularly in tough economic times, Laura Perna and Joni Finney of
Penns Graduate School of Education write in Hard Choices Ahead:
Performance and Policy in Texas Higher Education, the fourth report of
a five-state study.
Worrisomely, Texas ranks 39th among states in the share of adults ages
25 and older who have earned at least an associate degree, at 32%, Perna
and Finney find. Yet as soon as 2018, according to projections, 56% of
all jobs in Texas will require some kind of postsecondary education or
Texas higher education falls below the national average on most measures
of college readiness, enrollment and graduation rates, and below the
best-performing states on all of them, the researchers say. Moreover,
huge inequities persist in Texas higher education. For example, among
younger adults ages 25-34, 43% of whites hold at least an associate
degree, compared to 28% of blacks and only 15% of Hispanics.
Recognizing the need to improve college readiness, Texas has made great
strides in designing and evaluating high school courses and tests to
make sure they teach the skills students need to succeed in college.
This development holds great promise, Perna and Finney write.
But soaring tuitions also stand in the way of a college education for
many Texans. Texas was once known as a state where low financial aid was
offset by low tuition. Now the low tuition is gone, leaving only low
financial aid. In 2009, students at Texass public universities were
paying 72% more than they were just six years earlier.
Moreover, the states ambitious goal to expand seven emerging research
universities reveals little understanding of the serious policy
tradeoffs that must be considered if Texas is to achieve significantly
higher levels of educational attainment, Perna and Finney say. Boosting
research and prestige at public universities is an expensive undertaking
that will take funds away from the states efforts to increase college
enrollment and produce more graduates ready for tomorrows jobs.
The future of economic and social mobility in Texas depends on the
difficult choices that lie ahead for higher education, Perna and Finney
write. Are Texass state leaders prepared to make them?
Other states in the study are Illinois, Georgia, Maryland and
Washington. The full report is available at: www.gse.upenn.edu/irhe/srp/texas
About the Institute
The Institute for Research on Higher Education (IRHE), headquartered at
the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, conducts
research relevant to policymakers and educational practitioners. For the
past three years, under the leadership of its new director, Joni Finney,
IRHE has collaborated with the National Center for Public Policy and
Higher Education to complete a five-state policy review, the State
Review Project, to determine the relationship between public policy and
state performance in higher education.