Higher ed chief says much progress remains on road to low tuition, high graduation rates

Posted on: July 28th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant No Comments

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Parredes said Tuesday that the state is mostly on track with to match other states in access to higher education, but he said that many reforms still remain. It is time, he said, to “reinvent higher education.”

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board released its annual progress report on a decades-long initiative to help Texas universities to gain parity in higher education by 2015, in preparation for its regular meeting in Austin today. (Read the full report below.)

In a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Parredes said Texas has met some, but not all, of its targets, according to a piece in the Texas Tribune

The state is ahead of its 2010 targets for its two chief goals: increasing success (the number of degrees conferred) and participation (the number of Texans enrolling) in higher education, especially the latter. With record numbers of Texans signing up for colleges and universities, the emphasis has increasingly been on getting those students through the system with degrees. The state’s current overall six-year graduation rate is only slightly more than 57 percent. Still, there are significant lags in participation among some groups, particularly Hispanics and African-American males, and success rates in both the Hispanic and African-American communities are also below target.

A few parts of the initiative have been so unsuccessful that there is almost no chance of them being improved by 2015. In particular, the number of teacher certifications, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields is low.

Raymund Paredes said the next step will be to not simply “Close the Gaps,” as the initiative is called, but to become a leader.

“We want to place more emphasis on innovation,” Paredes said.

He hopes Texas will lead in areas like lower cost options for degrees. He has said in the past that the $10,000 degree proposed by Gov. Rick Perry is “entirely feasible.”

Perry appointed Paredes to his post in 2004.

His plans for the 2013 legislative session include restructuring financial aid and improving developmental education, and working harder for outcomes-based funding, as well as making colleges more responsive to needs in the workforce.

Paredes said that recent debates over higher education proposals promoted by Perry and his allies were unfortunate because they “distracted from some of real accomplishments of the last ten years.”

“We have spent an awful lot of time over the past 25 years emphasizing access,” he said. “We have come to the sometimes painful realization that access is not enough.”

But the San Antonio Express-News reported that Hispanics still lag behind other groups when it comes to enrolling and graduating from college.”

“The chief goal of Closing the Gaps was to increase enrollment by 630,000 by 2015, to nearly 1.7 million,” the Express-News reported. “Since 2000, Texas has added 486,000 students.” The goal was to increase the number of certificates, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees awarded to 210,000, and the state reached 177,000 degrees by 2010.

“We are doing extremely well in terms of the two most important goals,” Paredes said.

“Our higher-education leaders should be recognized for what they have done. Having said that, we still have substantial challenges.”

Hispanic college enrollment is growing, but it is still behind overall population growth and will have to increase by 53 percent by 2015 to reach the plan’s goals.

“We need to think about how we are going to reach a growing population of needy students with shrinking resources,” he said.

Closing the Gaps 2011 progress report

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