• October 23, 2019

Higher ed commissioner outlines achievements, challenges - Odessa American: Education

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Higher ed commissioner outlines achievements, challenges

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Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2019 4:43 pm

Paredes said Closing the Gaps, which began in 2000 and ended in 2015, has reached nearly all of its goals. The only one it came up a little short on was enrollment, which was adjusted several times upward and this was due to retention efforts by colleges and universities.

The final report for Closing the Gaps said statewide enrollment increased by 605,114 from fall 2000 to fall 2015, 96 percent of the targeted increase of about 630,000 students.

Closing the Gaps ended in 2015 and 60x30 Texas was approved in July 2015 and began in January 2016. The goal of 60x30 Texas is to have at least 60 percent of Texans age 25 to 34 with a certificate or degree by 2030.

“We particularly exceeded our goal in terms of Latino students. That hasn’t been emphasized as much as I would have liked because it’s key to the economic and educational future of Texas,” Paredes said.

There has been a significant increase in the six-year graduation rate. For universities, he said it was a little over 40 percent and is now 60 percent.

“We’re showing improvement in participation rates and success of poor students. That’s testimony on behalf of our colleges and universities doing some extraordinary things. Fifteen years ago, there were no food pantries or clothes closets where students could borrow” business attire, for example, for job interviews, Paredes said.

“We’ve got more and more institutions setting up emergency financial aid,” for students whose battery or transmission has died, he said. Many times this would prompt students to drop out of school and work full time to pay for their car repair.

“One of the things that is happening is we’re growing more accustomed to poor students on campuses and how difficult it is to stay in school,” Paredes said.  

Paredes noted that the coordinating board has launched the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program and allowed community colleges to offer baccalaureate programs.

“We’re expanding very, very cautiously, but it’s another part of the coordinating board’s plan to create a path to higher education for everyone who wants it. I think we’re well on our way to achieving it,” he said.

The University of Texas at Austin recently got notice for making college more affordable for low-income students, but Paredes said they are not the only one. Programs have been established at Texas A&M, Texas Tech and private schools.

Progress also has been made in improving access and success by Latino students, but there are still challenges related to males in general, particularly Latino and African-American males, Paredes said.

“But I think we’re making some progress,” he said.

There are still significant challenges such as accomplishing outcome-based funding for four-year institutions. It exists for community and technical colleges, Paredes said.

Other challenges, he said, are:

>> Making sure that higher education opportunities, offerings and programs don’t go beyond the state means to fund them.

>> Paredes said he also is worried about financial aid for middle income families who make say $70,000 to $110,000 in El Paso.

“… You are not eligible for lots of different varieties of financial aid,” he said.

And if you have two children heading to college, that would significantly impact your income.

>> Something also needs to be done about high school to college enrollments. The high school to college going rate directly, he said, is about 52 percent.

In states with the highest educational attainment, it’s 70 percent and it’s 65 percent nationally, Paredes said.

>> Summer melt also is a concern. Paredes said this is when students who are supposed to show up at college in the fall don’t make it.

“One of the best ways to address that is don’t give them a break. It’s something we need to think about. If we enroll students in much higher numbers year round, it would save money in terms of … time to degree,” Paredes said.

Paredes will be stepping down after 15 years in his post at the end of August. The El Paso native and UT Austin alum has been the longest serving commissioner of higher education in Texas and the longest serving member of the national State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) organization, an email from the coordinating board said.

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