In the spring of 2016, Gov. Greg Abbott charged three state agencies, the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, with developing a set of recommendations that would create greater collaboration among them, raise educational attainment and economic competitiveness, and place Texas on a clear path to achieving the goals of the state's higher education strategic plan, 60x30TX, whose major goal is that 60 percent of young Texans will hold a certificate or degree by 2030.
Representatives of the three agencies convened meetings of education, business, political, and community leaders in every region of Texas to gather information and recommendations related to the governor's charges. Texans had plenty to say. They enthusiastically endorsed 60x30TX even as they noted how far we have to go to achieve its primary goals. Like Gov. Abbott, they emphasized the need to increase collaboration among the three agencies and to strike a balance between academic and professional training on the one hand and career and technical education on the other. Business leaders from El Paso to Tyler underscored the need to incorporate marketable skills into the educational experiences of all college students, regardless of major. They expressed great concern for academic quality and rigor throughout the educational pipeline and advocated for expanding educational opportunities for the 60 percent of public K-12 students who are poor. And everywhere we went, we heard concerns about the rising cost of higher education and the enduring burden of student debt.
After a culminating statewide meeting in Austin, the three agencies issued a report. Its title, Prosperity Requires Being Bold, nicely captures its key idea: Texas cannot reach its education and workforce goals doing business as usual.
For Texas higher education leaders, the complaints and concerns expressed across the state cannot be ignored. Parents complained about the deficiency of transfer policies that result in the loss of academic credit - and increased cost - as students move from one institution to another. Academic, financial, and career counseling on college campuses were described as being inadequate, if not altogether unavailable. Business leaders noted recurrently that graduates of both two- and four-year institutions often lacked critical thinking and communication skills, not to mention strong work habits. The affordability of higher education was another prime topic everywhere, to the point that many participants in the regional meetings questioned whether higher education was truly worth the cost.
Higher education leaders in Texas must respond to these concerns, not only in words but also in deeds. As I write, groups of higher education leaders are working to improve transfer policy and practice and to expand student advising and counseling in both face-to-face and online formats. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is convening faculty groups to consider how marketable skills can be incorporated into the curriculum across all majors, especially the liberal arts.
Certainly one of the most gratifying outcomes of the tri-agency regional meetings has been the recognition of the need for more public/private partnerships across Texas. Corporate leaders recently joined with the heads of the three agencies to announce the launch of the Texas Internship Challenge, a campaign to expand the number of paid internships across the state available to college students. And the 85th Texas Legislature, currently in session as I write, is considering a bill called "Texas Works," which would expand the number of off-campus work-study positions available to college students and would be funded jointly by the state, businesses, and community-based organizations. Everybody wins through initiatives like this: Financial aid dollars are stretched further, students acquire invaluable workforce skills, and college costs are held down.
To borrow a phrase, achieving the goals of 60x30TX requires being bold. As you will note in the following pages, educational improvement in Texas is steady but slow, too slow to reach the goals of 60x30TX. Too few students of color, and poor students in general, achieve a postsecondary credential of any type; too few Texas high school graduates enroll in higher education relative to projected workforce needs; and six-year university graduation rates are still only at 59 percent - again, well below projected workforce needs.
We Texans must embrace boldness and innovation and quicken the pace on our way to 2030. By achieving the goals of 60x30TX, we will be able to look back and say we did some extraordinary things for the young people and the future of Texas.
Raymund A. Paredes, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Higher Education
|2017 Higher Education Almanac|