This edition of the Texas Higher Education Almanac appears as Closing the Gaps by 2015, the state's current higher education plan, approaches its expiration date. By most measures, Closing the Gaps has been a success. Texas has surpassed its goal, in absolute dollars, for attracting federal research dollars. In terms of academic excellence, our institutions of higher education are clearly stronger than they were 15 years ago. The University of Texas at Austin placed among the top 30 universities in the world according to the latest U.S. News & World Report global rankings. Texas A&M is now a research powerhouse. Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, and the University of Texas at Dallas now regularly are cited for their growing academic reputations. Texas community colleges, including El Paso Community College, South Texas College, and Odessa College, are leaders in improving developmental education and in establishing early college high schools. And community colleges statewide are aggressively pursuing student success through the creation of the Texas Success Center. The Texas State Technical College system has attracted national attention for implementing an innovative funding model which emphasizes placing graduates in well-paying jobs. Both two- and four-year institutions in Texas have received national recognition for the excellence of their online academic programs.
The two foundational goals of Closing the Gaps were (1) to increase participation in Texas higher education and (2) to significantly increase the number of credentials awarded. More specifically, the participation goal was to increase college enrollment by 630,000; currently, we are 40,000 students short of the goal with one enrollment cycle to go. Our completion goal was to reach 210,000 undergraduate credentials awarded by 2015. In 2014, we awarded more than 251,000 certificates and undergraduate degrees. By any measure, these are extraordinary accomplishments in which Texans and our institutions of higher education can take great pride.
The success of Closing the Gaps provides a strong platform for the launch of the next higher education strategic plan for Texas, as yet unnamed but very much under development: Its broad goal will be to establish Texas as a national leader in higher education. The new plan will have four primary goals, all student-centered. First, we expect that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans aged 25-34 will hold a post-secondary credential (compared to the current 38 percent). Next, we expect that by 2030, 550,000 Texans will receive a certificate, an undergraduate, or master's degree. Next, we expect that in 2030, at least 550,000 Texans will receive a certificate, an undergraduate, or master's degree. Next, we expect that all graduates, regardless of major or credential, will graduate with measurable and definable marketable skills. Our goal here is not to diminish higher education's traditional role of producing thoughtful, knowledgeable, and engaged graduates but also to prepare our students to thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy. Our final goal will be to keep student loan debt under control, defined as not exceeding 60 percent of first-year wages. These are lofty goals indeed.
Achieving these goals will require expanding and deepening educational partnerships. Two- and four-year institutions must align academic programs in terms of content and rigor and reduce the number of course credit lost in transfer. As always, higher education must partner with K-12 education to improve teacher training and professional development and to improve college readiness. And both sectors must work more closely with the business community and local and state workforce agencies to ensure students are job-ready upon completion of either degrees or certificates. Over the next 15 years, we should expect to see significant expansion of community-based work-study programs and corporate-sponsored paid internships that carry academic credit. Such programs not only provide valuable work experience but also reduce debt and can accelerate time-to-credential.
Post-secondary education has changed dramatically over the past 15 years but not as much, it is safe to say, as it will in the next 15 years. Here at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, we look forward to embarking on this exciting educational journey with our partners and friends inside and outside academia.
Raymund A. Paredes, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Higher Education
|2015 Higher Education Almanac|