THECB 2019 Almanac - Page 3

Having recently announced my pending resignation as Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, I concluded that this
would be a good time to take stock of Texas public higher education after 15 years on the job.
Clearly, a much higher level of cooperation between K–12 and higher education is needed in Texas. Faculty teams
from both sectors should work more regularly together to align curricula for both academic and career and technical
education programs. Colleges and universities should expand and maintain strong professional development programs
for high school teachers to enrich subject matter mastery and maintain appropriate levels of academic rigor. The
proliferation of dual credit courses in recent years creates both an opportunity and an imperative for an unprecedented
level of collaboration between faculty from the two sectors.
Recent changes in state policy are also yielding promising results. Current state law overhauling the practice of
developmental education has led to significant improvement in student performance, and the state adoption of
performance-based funding for two-year institutions is raising retention rates, completion rates, and employment
These are tough numbers that Texas must overcome if it is to reach the goals of 60x30TX. But there is ample
justification for optimism. As I write this, the Texas legislature is considering major reforms for K–12 education: salary
increases for teachers, expanded pre-K opportunities, and increasing resources for schools in low-income communities.
These actions would significantly improve college readiness and encourage more high school graduates to enroll in our
public colleges and universities.
As data in the almanac starkly demonstrate, poorly prepared students who enroll in Texas colleges and universities
are generally placed in developmental education, from which they typically do not emerge successfully. Only 28
percent of students placed in developmental math complete a college-level credit course in two years; in reading and
writing, the numbers are 41 percent and 35 percent, respectively. In Texas community colleges, fewer than 22 percent
of underprepared students complete either a degree or a certificate in six years; in universities, only 30 percent of
underprepared students complete a postsecondary credential in the same time frame.
Not surprisingly, the students who are least likely to complete high school and enroll in college are poor. As the
almanac notes, examining educational attainment in 8th grade cohorts shows that only 73 percent of poor students
(defined as those qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch) will graduate high school and only 44 percent will enroll
in higher education in Texas (compared to 84 percent and 65 percent, respectively, for their more affluent peers).
Considering that 59 percent of all Texas public school students are economically disadvantaged students, a failure to
significantly improve their educational attainment will have dire consequences for the economic well-being and quality
of life in Texas.
Texas also lags other states in sending students to college directly from high school—52 percent compared to the
national average of 67 percent. Texas college-going rates are especially low for males, particularly African Americans
and Latinos. In 2018, males made up only 43 percent of total public higher education enrollment in Texas, a disparity
that is approaching crisis status.
Of course, any discussion of Texas public higher education must begin with a comment or two about Texas public
K–12 education, given how dependent the former is on the latter. Simply put, a state system of higher education
cannot flourish without a strong K–12 foundation. A glance through the early pages of this almanac reveals several
areas of concern for Texas K–12. On SAT reading and writing, Texas ranks 42nd among the states; in math, we rank
41st. On the ACT, the second major national assessment of college readiness, Texas students do better, placing 27th
among all states. Going by just these two assessments, somewhere between 25 percent and 40 percent of entering
students are deemed not college ready. Texas allows multiple assessments for demonstrating college readiness, but
even so, about 40 percent of entering college students are deemed not college ready by any state standard.
Letter from the Commissioner


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