Of the 21,000 high school graduates that go to college, most stay in the region and the majority attend Odessa College.
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board figures for 2016 show 76.4 percent of high school graduates stay in the region. Some 5,667 students, or 26.9 percent, go to OC.
Midland College gets 4,811 students, or 22.8 percent, and Howard College attracts 19.5 percent, or 4,121 students.
Meanwhile, about 30 percent of West Texas students attend universities. Angelo State University gets or 3,346 students, or 15.9 percent, and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin draws 3,155 students, or 15 percent.
Odessa College Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness said the figures are pretty typical even going back a few years, but what’s different now is that the highest percentage are going to OC.
The rate of 25 to 34-year-olds with a certificate or higher postsecondary credential for 2015 was 29.4 percent in West Texas. Statewide, it was 41 percent. The 60 by 30 statewide initiative aims for 60 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds to earn a degree or certificate by 2030.
In recent years, the college has been trying to provide more points when people can take classes and help them achieve success through initiatives like the drop rate improvement program meant to help instructors connect with students by knowing their names and laying ground rules early.
Research shows that after leaving Odessa College with a two-year technical degree, graduates go to work and make $110,000 to $111,000 a year after five years, OC President Gregory Williams has said.
The percentage of people in Ector County with baccalaureate degrees is 13 to 16 percent, Vice President for Instruction Valerie Jones has said.
“We’re so far down they think if we can do 30 percent by 2060, we’re pretty good rather than 60 percent by 2030,” Odessa College Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness Don Wood said. “They actually do have lower expectations for West Texas. They think we get to 55 if we really hustle.”
Unemployment rates were low in 2014 at 3.9 percent and in 2018 at 3.3 percent, Wood said. However, OC has had five straight years of enrollment growth, he said.
Fall enrollment in 2014 was 4,867 and 6,308 in 2018.
Spring enrollment for 2014 was 4,607 and 5,757 in 2018.
Five-year fall enrollment growth from 2012-2017 was up 28.7 percent at OC. Meanwhile, it was down 0.7 percent statewide, 1.7 percent at Howard College and was up 0.7 percent at Midland College, numbers from the 2018 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac show.
“This is typically when you see a drop off in enrollments at the both the university level and the community college level, but Odessa College has found a way to not do that. We have grown every year and now we have our highest enrollments in the history of the college,” he said.
There are a number of things that make OC different from other colleges, Wood said.
It provides the first class free, but most people take two classes so they get started on their higher education.
“The other aspect of that is they come in and that allows us to review all the financial aid packages they need. It allows us to set them up on a pathway to completion. Basically, it’s getting them in the door. That’s one aspect of it,” Wood said.
“The second aspect of it is we also provide progress discounts, so they get to 30 credits, they get 10 percent off. They get to 45 credit hours, they get 20 percent off tuition. This also is a huge help to students financially,” he added.
Another component is that OC is intentional about working with high schools and getting students interested in college while they’re in high school. College representatives also work with the students themselves individually.
“Our dual credit program has grown every year, as well,” Wood said. “We have … almost 1,900 students in dual credit.”
In Ector County, Wood said, we’ve made five commitments to help students in ECISD. The college now has a permanent staff member at Odessa High School and Permian High School and a permanent staff member based at OC working with all the middle schools.
“The goal there (with the middle schools) is to interact with all the eighth graders to get them interested in understanding what dual credit is and understanding the benefits of college. This goes along with our commitment to do 1,000 presentations to the ECISD group. We have people working with elementary school kids; we have people working with the middle school kids; we have people working with the high school kids,” Wood said.
“This is to help the students stay focused on education and we work to help students get placed in both university and community college,” he added.
The college also started offering eight-week terms instead of the traditional 16-week semesters in 2014. Wood said this gives people a lot more “on ramps” to college.
The 2013 cohort, the last one to start with 16-week terms, had a 28 percent three-year graduation rate for full-time students. For the 2014 cohort, the three-year graduation rate spiked to 42.4 percent.
The three-year graduation rate for part-time students in the 2014 cohort was 30.8 percent.
The three-year graduation rate for students who are college ready and not taking developmental education courses is 52.9 percent for this year, according to the 2018 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, Wood said.
Innovation is the key to better results in higher education, Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes said in a statement.
In 2015, Odessa College was ranked 31st among Texas community colleges with a 19 percent graduation rate. Two years later, with a graduation rate of 42 percent, the institution achieved the highest three-year community college graduation rate in the state, Paredes said.
In Texas, 10 percent of a community college’s funding is based on success points. This is meant to encourage colleges to move students through college and get them to hit milestones a little bit faster.
Odessa College in the last three years has seen a 30 percent increase in its success points, the highest in the state, Wood said.
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said OC’s overall performance is excellent and the school sets a standard for its peers. He added that Odessa College has the highest three-year graduation rate in the state and noted the increase in success points.
Odessa College also recently signed an articulation agreement with the University of Texas of the Permian Basin that will make for an easier transition from community college to a four-year school and helps with timely graduation.
Seliger said either Wood or President Gregory Williams will be testifying before the Senate Committee on Higher Education April 25 about how they are moving toward 60 by 30.
The regional goals reflect the art and science of setting projections. Kelly Carper Polden, spokeswoman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said there is a lot of variation in terms of how many people have certificates and degrees regionally across the state.
“As we developed the regional targets, we took both the current levels of attainment and the statewide goal into consideration,” Polden said. “We identified, what is the minimum amount of growth we would need to see from each region, given where they are starting, to get to 60 percent statewide. Some regions are above and some are below 60.”
“Regions above 60 percent are capped, which means that regions who start on the low end actually have more growth required to hit their regional targets. We would love to see each region stretch to 60 percent, and applaud efforts to do so. We also want to be reasonable based on current levels of education and projections we have about population growth in each region, to set reasonable stretch goals,” she added.
(Percent of the 25-34-year-old population with a certificate or higher postsecondary credential, 2015)
- Statewide: 41 percent.
- West Texas: 29.4 percent.
- High Plains: 37.7 percent.
- Northwest: 36.4 percent.
- Metroplex: 45.4 percent.
- Upper East: 33.9 percent.
- Southeast: 32.9 percent.
- Gulf Coast: 42.4 percent.
- Central Texas: 47.8 percent.
- South Texas: 33.4 percent.
- Upper Rio Grande: 38.3 percent.