The bright promise of a fresh semester that begins this week for college students in Texas also carries a bit of gray cloud behind it.
That’s because higher education continues to get more expensive while financial aid decreases and academic preparation remains a hurdle for too many students.
While UT Austin‘s TV network and Texas A&M’s flirtation with bolting the Big 12 are great chat fodder, the biggest challenges to the state’s colleges and universities rest with whom they’re serving in the classrooms and how well they’re doing it.
A recent report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board showed significant growth in higher education enrollment and in the number of students receiving degrees and certificates.
But the state is short of the goals it has set for getting African-American men and Hispanics through college.
Closing the Gaps by 2015 is the state’s master plan for increasing college attendance and expanding higher education research.
According to this year’s update, enrollment jumped by more than 250,000 students since 2007. That covers public, private and for-profit institutions, including four-year schools and community colleges. From 2009 to 2010, 60 percent of enrollment growth was at community colleges.
While more blacks and Hispanics are continuing their education, the numbers are short of the coordinating board’s 2015 targets: Five percent of African-American men and 4.5 percent of Hispanics were attending, according to the report.
The completion gap also continues: Eighty-four percent of Asian students graduate within six years, as do 76.6 percent of whites, 64.8 percent of Hispanics and 52.3 percent of African-Americans.
And there’s an overall shortage of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The report included a long list of suggestions for the board, the Legislature, institutions and public schools. Some seemed superficial, such as revamping websites and undertaking a statewide “college-going campaign.” Others will require substantial effort, coordination, creativity and, yes, money.
For instance, dual-credit courses that allow high school students to simultaneously earn college credit should be consistent, and transferring from two-year to four-year colleges should be smoother and cost-efficient.
Also recommended is increased effort to make sure all high school students have the rigorous curriculum that prepares them for higher education.
Students must now take four years of English, math, science and social studies. State officials credit that with a rising percentage of Texas students passing all the college-readiness benchmarks of the ACT college entrance exam.
But large numbers of Texas high school graduates still reach college needing remedial courses. In 2010-11, 48 percent of community college entrants and 14 percent of incoming university freshmen weren’t ready in at least one subject, according to the board.
And yet, while the challenges continue, the Legislature in the summer appropriated $1.2 billion less for higher education in 2011-13 than in 2010-11. That included a 15 percent reduction in major financial aid programs, which already reach only a fraction of eligible students.
But the board said the state needs to spend more, not less, to help the neediest students.
In a June analysis, the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities said that for every $1 in federal Pell Grant aid sent to Texas students, the state invests 32 cents, far less than six other large states, including Florida (41 cents), California (56 cents), North Carolina (70 cents) and New York (88 cents). Read more…