The Texas commissioner of higher education outlined plans to hold colleges and universities more accountable for student success, or lack thereof, during a roundtable with area education and business leaders.
Dr. Raymund A. Paredes said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is proposing that public institutions be funded partially based on results. This could include the state considering the number of graduates produced, the number of graduates in high-need fields and the outcomes for graduates who are classified as at-risk.
Although not new — the state has been talking about changing the higher education funding mechanism for several years — Paredes said he hopes to see the Legislature work on the issue next session.
“Our goal is to position Texas between now and 2015 to become a national and international leader in higher education,” Paredes said during the East Texas Region’s Higher Education Roundtable on Tuesday.
During the hour-long program, Paredes updated regional business and education officials on the state’s progress on the Closing the Gaps initiative and the future of higher education and the workforce.
Paredes said as the state looks to better align higher education outcomes with workforce demands, they must fund the things that mean the most. And that may mean tweaking the funding mechanism.
“What we do in Texas right now … we fund two-year and four-year institutions through formulas and those formulas are based primarily on enrollments,” Paredes said. “We take enrollments on the 12th class day of a given semester and we fund institutions on the basis of enrollments.
“What happens to those students beyond the 12th class day has very little consequence for the institutions,” he said.
Closing the Gaps by 2015 is the state’s higher education strategic plan. Created in 2000, it provides the vision for closing higher education gaps within Texas and between Texas and other states, according to the coordinating board’s website.
With specific goals in four key areas, the plan aims to put Texas’ higher education attainment on par with other states around the nation. In addition, achieving these goals would help strengthen the state’s economic base, attract innovative business and top-notch faculty and improve the quality of life, according to the coordinating board.
Paredes said the state is on track toward meeting some of its key goals in higher education attainment. In outlining the progress, Paredes focused on two areas: participation and success.
The participation goal includes increasing student enrollment numbers at public and independent colleges and universities by 630,000 by 2015. As of 2011, the state saw a 532,000 student increase, Paredes said.
In the success category, the state is seeking to increase by 50 percent the number of undergraduate degrees, certificates and more awarded by college and university programs.
The goal is to award 210,000 undergraduate degrees and certificates by 2015. Last year, Texas public schools awarded more than 186,000 slightly above that year’s target.
“We’re getting better, but given how far behind we were when we started, we’re not getting better fast enough,” Paredes said.
Locally, East Texas colleges and universities are doing their part to contribute to state growth in these areas.
East Texas institutions have made steady enrollment gains since 2000 with a 35 percent increase at public universities and a 29 percent increase at public community and technical colleges.
However, in recent years that growth has gone flat, according to coordinating board data. Public university enrollment went from more than 23,700 students in 2000 to almost 32,000 in 2011 for the East Texas public universities.
At the community and technical college level, enrollment grew from more than 70,900 students in 2000 to more than 91,200 in 2011.
In terms of output, area institutions also saw growth. Public universities awarded 41 percent more undergraduate degrees between 2000 and 2011 going from about 5,000 to more than 7,000.
Public community and technical colleges saw a 66 percent increase in degrees and credentials awarded, moving from more than 4,700 to almost 8,000, according to the data.
Increasing these outcomes is critical because research shows that by 2018 more than 60 percent of all U.S. jobs are projected to require some type of postsecondary education, according to a Georgetown University study Paredes cited. And the state is not producing at a rate to meet this future demand.
Degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields fall well below the state’s targets.
To be on track with the 2015 goal, Texas schools needed to award 25,000 STEM field degrees last year. They awarded about 17,100. The 2015 goal is 29,000.
In terms of four-year graduation rates, UT Tyler outpaces the state and several regional institutions with more than 31 percent of its full-time students and 25 percent of its part-time students earning a degree in that time span.
When looking at six-year graduation rates, UT Tyler falls below the state with about 53 percent of its full-time students and almost 17 percent of its part-time students earning degrees in that time.
Moving forward, the state must focus on expanding access to higher education, Paredes said. This includes restructuring financial aid, creating more opportunities for low-cost degrees and strengthening community colleges.
He said continued collaboration with K-12 educators particularly in the area of professional development is essential as is improving higher education outcomes.
“We’re getting better in Texas, but we have to get better, much better, faster,” Paredes said.
UT Tyler President Dr. Rod Mabry, who was among several higher education officials at the event, said he was pleased to see the commissioner visit Tyler.
“Commissioner Paredes is a forward thinker and really is trying to maneuver higher education for the benefit of the state in this tough time,” Mabry said.