In talking about rising graduation rates at universities and community colleges, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes said Odessa College has been recognized as one of the best community colleges in the country.
During a teleconference with news media Wednesday, Paredes said Odessa College has seen a significant increase in student success by going to eight-week terms instead of the traditional 16-week semesters.
Paredes said it is apparently a lot more beneficial to students who are working in a highly volatile industry like oil.
He said there are institutions looking into eight-week terms, but he couldn’t think of one in Texas that has implemented it. In the Gulf Coast region, institutions have been looking at ways to shorten the path to a credential because of the need for people in the building trades after Hurricane Harvey.
“Odessa is still pretty much on its own at this point. The numbers they are developing and the success they are having is being noticed around the state,” Paredes said.
The college has had many counterparts from around the country visit the campus to see how the eight-week terms work.
Odessa College was one of two community colleges to win a Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Star Award. It was recognized for its eight-week terms.
Other winners were Austin Community College, University of Houston — UH in 4 and University of Houston–Downtown– The Gateway Course Innovation Initiative.
Paredes also touched on graduation rates and the need for them to rise for the state to meet its 60 by 30 Texas goal of having 60 percent of adults age 25 to 34 earning a degree or certificate by 2030, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and dual credit.
DACA, he said, is “critically important” to Texas and that there are tens of thousands of students who are in that category.
“… The United States is their home country,” Paredes said. “A lot of these young people don’t even remember living anywhere else. Many of them don’t speak the language of the country from which they came. The evidence is that they achieve at same level as (students born in the United States). They fill jobs that would be underfilled without the participation by those students. I think we need to find an equitable solution to situation for these young people.”
On a separate item, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also is conducting a study that is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 on dual credit and college readiness. Dual credit courses allow students to earn college credit while still in high school.
Legislation allowed more students to take the courses sooner in their high school careers, but Paredes said there is some question about whether students who take them are ready for them. He said it needs to be considered whether the option was expanded too quickly and compromised the integrity of the courses.
He said the “explosion” of students taking dual credit started in 2015. Paredes added that he expects the matter to get attention by the legislature in 2019. Scores on the TSI Assessments, SAT and ACT help determine whether a student is college ready.
He said some districts are not requiring the students to be college ready when they take dual credit classes, or their definitions of college readiness are probably too lenient.
“We’ve got reason to be concerned. We’re not going to start howling doom and gloom until we see data,” Paredes said.
According to the information he’s read, Paredes said there are about 110,000 students in Texas high schools that are “demonstrably college ready, and yet right now the last time looked at data have 160,000 taking dual credit.”