As Texans, we’re a fierce and competitive bunch, and in the last few years our state has touted its record on low taxes and economic growth. There’s no doubt that Texas has been competitive in job growth, but when it comes to higher education, we’ve lost our edge. And without a well-educated workforce, we’re risking Texas’ future ability to compete.
The bottom line is that Texas is struggling to produce enough college graduates to meet employers’ needs, and without some significant changes, Texas will continue to rank near the bottom when it comes to adults earning an associate’s degree or higher. By 2020, 62% of jobs in Texas will require some form of postsecondary education, but only one-third of prime working-age adults today have an associate’s degree or higher. That leaves Texas well behind other large states when it comes to educational attainment.
College students in Texas, both in four-year universities and two-year community colleges, are struggling to complete degrees at the rate our state needs to provide the skilled labor force required for competitive economic growth in the future. Several factors contribute to these challenges:
- Economically disadvantaged students are three times less likely than their more well-off peers to complete a college degree
- The number of older students (those who start college at 25 or older) who attend part-time is increasing, and due to their need to balance school, work, and family requirements, only about one-third graduate within six years
- Declining state support for higher education has contributed to soaring tuition rates (286% between 1990-2010), making college costs out of reach for many, and forcing others to take on high amounts of student loan debt to cover costs
These challenges mean that lower-income and older students frequently require full or part-time work to meet their college expenses, slowing their completion rates and increasing the likelihood that they will never complete their degrees. And those who take on loans to cover tuition and fees graduate with more than $25,000 in student loan debt on average, hampering their economic opportunity once they graduate.
Texas is updating the next 15-year master plan for higher education this year, which should be used to address many of these issues. The goals and targets outlined in the new plan must be inclusive in promoting access to higher education for all students, including those with lower-income or who start later in life. Among other recommendations, the Center for Public Policy Priorities also strongly supports the Legislature in increasing investments in higher education and need-based grant aid for four-year and community college students, including increased investment in the Texas College Work-Study Program.
To learn more about how Texas can make higher education more accessible to all students, read our new report “Keeping College Within Reach: How Texas Can Move More Low-Income and Adult Students Through College.”
This article was originally published at CPPP’s blog, www.bettertexasblog.org.
*Featured/top image: A statue of former Sen. Frank L. Malda overlooks the Texas A&M-San Antonio campus. Photo by Scott Ball.