Commissioner: Session good news for higher education

A bill that will make it easier for community college students to transfer to four-year institutions and funds for at-risk students were two highlights cited by Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes in a phone interview this week.
“We came up with, I think, a good piece of transfer legislation so that students will be much more likely to be able to transfer from a two-year institution to a university without loss of credit. That’s huge,” Paredes said.
Senate Bill 25, which takes effect Sept. 1, will help the state reach its objectives in 60×30 Texas. The primary goal of the plan is to have 60 percent of Texans age 25 to 34 earn a certificate or degree by 2030.
“One of the key strategies outlined in the 60X30TX plan is streamlined and coordinated transfer pathways between two-year colleges and four-year universities. In practice, semester credit hours are often stranded at the point of transfer, resulting in frustration for students, and a waste of taxpayer dollars estimated to be $58 million annually,” the bill says.
Course sequencing is one of the provisions included in the legislation under which students will know what courses to take for a particular plan or major, and graduate without any loss of credit in four years, Paredes said.
“You’ll save … you and your family some money, so that’s a huge step forward. We also have some reporting that universities have to do in that bill, so the coordinating board will be able to monitor what’s working and what’s not working. I’m pleased with that,” Paredes said.
The bill also has a provision to track the success of transfer students.
“… We’ll be able to determine where the bottlenecks are,” he said.
On a separate item, Paredes said the higher education coordinating board has more than $100 million that will be targeted to help at-risk students that do well at the universities. The funds will be made available to the universities in the next legislative session.
He said it is meant for four-year institutions. The funds were part of the B-On-Time program, which was eliminated.
“That money was sitting in the state treasury, so we recommended that that money be returned to universities and we recommended that it be targeted to at-risk students so that they have a higher likelihood of completing their degrees,” Paredes added.
“… They can use it for tutoring. They can use it for academic advising. They can use it for any kind of academic activity that will help at-risk students have a higher likelihood of success, so I think that’s an important piece of legislation.”
Overall, Paredes said, higher education did well this legislative session.
“Higher education was funded at higher levels. In fact, the legislature not only accepted the coordinating board’s recommendations for funding, it exceeded them, so that was very good news,” he added.
“… We increased … funding for the TEXAS Grant program by approximately $80 million. We increased funding for graduate medical education by something like $60 million. We were able to maintain the ratio of funding for 1.1 of all the slots that are necessary. That was big. We’ll be able to hang on to a larger share of our medical school graduates,” Paredes said.
The TEXAS Grant program provides financial aid to eligible students attending public higher education institutions in Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website said.
Passage of a bill that expands the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s bonding authority was another highlight. Paredes said that will save about $4 million a year and allows for reduced interest rates.
“We already have among the lowest interest rates in the country of any state program and we’ll be able to maybe drop it a percentage point or two,” Paredes said.
Funding for higher education fluctuates depending on the state of the budget, he noted.
“We had a good budget year and the state is doing well economically, so I was pleased that (legislature) saw fit to distribute a significant share of that money to higher education,” Paredes said.