Closing the Gaps by 2015, the state’s higher education plan, was adopted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2000 to focus the state’s efforts on four goals: to close the gaps – within Texas as well as in comparison with other leading states – in participation, success, excellence, and research. In late 2005, the participation goal and its intermediate targets were adjusted to reflect the state’s rapid population growth, and other goals and intermediate targets were changed to allow more effective measurement of progress.
According to the Closing the gaps Accelerated Plan 2015, despite significant growth in the past decade, participation among Hispanic students is still below Closing the Gaps targets.
Only five public universities in Texas have six year graduation rates above 50% and only three out of ten full-time community college students earn any credential after six years. 22% of Texas students graduate from high school college-ready.
Increases in tuition and fees at public universities have made college education unaffordable for many Texans. From fall 2003- fall 2007, the statewide average total academic charges increased by 53%. In 2003, the Legislature relinquished authority to individual institutions and university systems to determine tuition increases. Before 2003, access to higher education was greater because tuition was low. The changes made in 2003 were problematic because tuition increases can now be imposed regardless of whether Texas students and families can afford it.
Rising costs of higher education affect all students but low-income students particularly since Texas has a high percentage of low-income families. Increases also hurt middle-income families because students from these families often do not qualify for financial aid. A possible alternative is to require price stabilization with a multi-year agreement but not mandate the terms, and all institutions to plan according to the needs of their students and the institutions. The ability for boards of regents to set tuition should be repealed altogether. Tuition should also be frozen for a period of time to allow students the opportunity to know what their total education cost will be.
According to the Closing the gaps Accelerated Plan 2015, additional emphasis also needs to be placed on community colleges and the increasingly important role they play in contributing to the success goals, particularly for Hispanic students. Over 60% of Hispanic students chose community colleges as their gateway to post-secondary education in 2009, which represents 35% of community college students. The number of Hispanic students at community colleges is expected to more than double by 2030.
Gains Made in Previous Sessions
The 81st Legislative Session was arguably one of the best sessions for higher education in recent history. Over $250 million was added to our state’s financial aid system while the groundwork was laid to increase the number of national tier one universities in Texas.
81st Legislative Session:
- HB 51 created three initiatives and establish funding methods to enable emerging research universities to achieve national prominence as major research institutions and would direct the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to administer the programs. The bill creates the Research University Development Fund (RUDF) to provide funding to eligible emerging research universities for the support and maintenance of educational and general activities that promote increased research capacity; the Texas Research Incentive program (TRIP) to provide matching grants based on the amount of donations from private sources; and the National Research University Benchmark Fund (NRUBF), which would provide funding incentives based on a point system to reward universities that met critical benchmarks toward achieving national prominence as major research universities.
- HB 2504 requires universities to post course information online and ensures continuous availability of vital course information. It provides transparency and gives taxpayers and those responsible for paying college tuition as much information as possible.
Limits on increases in tuition and fees at higher education institutions are likely to return as an issue next session. SB 1443 by Senator Zaffirini died in House Calendars, but will most likely return. SB 1443 would have limited increases in total academic costs, including designated tuition and mandatory fees charged to resident undergraduates by public higher institutions.