In 2012, the Houston Endowment, with data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, began to promote "The Number," a simple calculation that nonetheless summarizes nicely how Texas is doing educationally. "The Number" represents the percentage of Texas eighth-graders who achieve a postsecondary certificate or degree in-state within 11 years. A few pages later in this document, you will see that "The Number" for the eighth-graders of 2002 is 20. If we break down "The Number" a bit, we find that only 10 percent of economically-disadvantaged students have received a postsecondary credential compared to 29 percent of their more affluent peers. Males achieve at levels significantly lower than females, 16 percent to 23 percent, and African American males fare least well of all subgroups. A Houston Endowment study notes that a national sample of eighth-graders shows that they "substantially outperform" their Texas counterparts, with 29.3 percent achieving a postsecondary credential within 11 years. Considering that some well-regarded studies predict that over 55 percent of Texas jobs will require some type of postsecondary credential by 2020, these figures do not represent a pathway for increasing economic prosperity and quality of life.
In last year's letter fronting the Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, I made the point that Texas higher education-and K12 education, for that matter-is performing better but not getting better fast enough. It's a point worth making again. College preparation in our high schools is improving and college-going rates are rising. Our colleges and universities are focusing on student success and our completion rates are improving as a result. But these gains have been incremental and we still lag well behind high-achieving states such as California, New York, and Illinois.
In order to rank among the leading states in educational attainment, Texas must become a center of educational cooperation and innovation. I am pleased to note some promising developments in these areas. Collaboration between K12 and higher education is growing steadily, to a large extent as a result of the passage of House Bill 5 which mandates that the two sectors work cooperatively to develop new college-ready courses as well as those with a career and technical focus. House Bill 5 also demands much higher levels of academic advising for high school students; through such efforts as Advise TX, colleges and universities are seeking to supplement the efforts of high school advisors who typically carry extraordinary workloads. The Texas Workforce Commission is now working closely with both K12 and higher education to assure that students are well-informed about the labor market in Texas and that students make the transition to the workforce with marketable skills.
In terms of academic innovation in higher education, a number of initiatives are notable. For example, South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce have launched the Affordable Baccalaureate Program which combines such elements as online coursework and competency-based advancement to lower the cost of a baccalaureate degree and thus make higher education accessible to larger numbers of Texans. A new college-readiness instrument, developed as part of the Texas Success Initiative, has a strong diagnostic component which will allow colleges and universities to more precisely target specific academic deficiencies, which should lead to higher student success rates and less time in developmental education. Speaking of developmental education, another noteworthy innovation is the growing effort statewide to integrate developmental reading and writing with the goal of improving student success and reducing the amount of time students spend in non-credit remediation courses.
In order to improve "The Number," Texas must become a national center of innovation in higher education, with the primary goals of improving student success and employability and holding down costs to both students and the state. We must expand both online and blended instruction and we must expand competency-based programs that advance students toward credentials based on mastery of subject matter, not time in class. Colleges and universities should work more closely with the business sector to increase the availability of paid internships that not only provide relevant workforce experience but carry academic credit. And we should launch a statewide "Marketable Skills Across the Curriculum Initiative" that ensures that all college and university graduates will have skills that employers seek, whether they major in business or philosophy. Finally, we must encourage college and university faculty to lead the way toward innovation by rewarding them through the tenure and promotion system for distinguished-and measurable-achievement not only in research but in teaching and service.
Such bold innovations are needed to raise Texas to a position of national leadership in higher education, particularly in terms of student success, the employability of our graduates, and the excellence of their education. Our overall educational goal should be to reach a point, in a decade or so, when Texas education, business, and community leaders can proudly recite "The Number" from memory.
Raymund A. Paredes, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Higher Education
|2014 Higher Education Almanac|
|2014 Media Coverage|