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Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Tracking diplomas

From the Texas Tribune:

Among young Texans who started eighth grade in 2001, less than one-fifth went on to earn a higher education credential within six years of their high school graduation. And rates were even lower among African-American and Hispanic students and those who were economically disadvantaged, according to data analyzed by two state education agencies and presented Tuesday in a Texas Tribune news application.

Since 2012, Houston Endowment, a philanthropic foundation and sponsor of the news app, has advocated for the use of “cohort tracking” to evaluate the state’s education pipeline. The analysis begins with all Texas students entering eighth grade in a given year and follows them for 11 years, giving them six years after high school to earn a post-secondary degree.

George Grainger, senior program officer for Houston Endowment’s education initiatives, said he believes it’s a valid performance index for the entire education pipeline, not just higher education. “We felt if we put our name on this, we can talk about it in a way that a state agency is perhaps not able to,” he said.

Cohort tracking is something the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had been doing for some time — but quietly. Houston Endowment approached the agency about running the numbers again and providing an annual snapshot of the education system, this time for public consumption.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes called the idea of using the simple, easy-to-understand metric — rather than standard metrics like college graduation rates — “a minor act of genius.”

“If your final number is 19 out of 100 students receiving some form of post-secondary credential, you know there’s an awful lot of leakage in the pipeline,” Paredes said.

The story is about a better way to track higher education outcomes among graduating classes. The NCAA does something similar to track athletes’ graduation rates. There are some holes in this method – it doesn’t count people who spend a couple of years in the military before going on to graduate from college, and it loses track of people who move out of state before graduating high school – but it’s an improvement over what we had been doing to track this achievement. There are some predictable disparities due to race and to income level, and while there are some encouraging trends the fact remains that a huge percentage of current students will not get a college degree. While we all agree that not everyone needs to go to college and that more needs to be done to support kids who want to be on a more vocational track, the fact remains that on balance, not getting a college degree means greatly reducing earning potential. The embedded chart comes via Kevin Drum, who comments:

The chart from Pew Research tells the story. In 1965, high school grads earned 19 percent less than college grads. Since then, the earnings of college grads have gone up (though slowly over the past two decades), while the earnings of high school grads have plummeted. As a result, high school grads today earn a whopping 39 percent less than college grads. Life for the 47 percent of Americans who have high school diplomas but no more is an increasingly parlous one.

This is our future, Texas. What are we doing about it?

Perry signs HB5, adds transportation to the special session

There had been some buzz about a possible veto, but in the end this was to be expected.

When Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 5 on Monday, he ended weeks of speculation that he might veto the high-profile education legislation because of concerns that it would weaken high school graduation standards.

The bill, by House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, drops the number of state standardized tests high school students must take to graduate and changes the courses needed to earn a diploma. It passed both chambers unanimously, with many lawmakers hailing the bill as one of the session’s most important, after months of lengthy committee hearings and contentious behind-the-scenes negotiations.

As Perry signed HB 5 with Aycock and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, by his side, the governor said the measure reflected an “appropriate balance between a need for rigorous academics and flexibility” and had “come a long way” to address the concerns of its critics, which include the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“Texas refuses to dilute our academic standards in any way because they are working,” he said, citing the state’s rising graduation rates and test scores.

Actually, STAAR scores were flat, and high schoolers continued to have trouble with the end of course exams. And there were definitely some people who thought that HB5 did dilute standards, including TEA Commissioner Michael Williams and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes. Be that as it may, HB5 did do a number of good things, and we’ll just have to see what happens with the graduation requirements. As I’ve said before, I fully expect this matter to be revisited by the Lege again and again. Texas Politics has more.

Meanwhile, the scope of the special session has been expanded, though thankfully not for anything bad.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday added transportation funding to the agenda of the special session.

In his directive, Perry asked the Legislature to consider the “funding of transportation infrastructure projects” during the 30-day session, which began late last month.

“Texas’ growing economy and population demand that we take action to address the growing pressure on the transportation network across the state,” Perry said in a statement. “As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life.”

Not clear when the Lege will get around to this, since the House stands adjourned till Monday the 17th. Also not clear why Perry violated his previous dictum about waiting till redistricting was done before doing anything else. But that’s Rick Perry for you.

Even before Perry added transportation to the call, lawmakers had been filing road funding bills with the hope that he would. For his part, Perry has been advocating for 100-year bonds to finance transportation infrastructure, arguing the state should take advantage of historically low interest rates.

But a large contingent of Republicans remains adamantly opposed to TxDOT assuming any more debt. Some lawmakers want to tap the Rainy Day Fund for transportation funds, but conservatives have already objected to using the account for water projects and ending accounting tricks so it’s unclear if that will re-emerge during the special session.

Perry himself added to the problem during the regular session when he shot down the idea of even a modest increase in the vehicle registration fee as a way to help fund transportation. Perry also said he’d only add items that had consensus and thus would be easy enough to pass, and it’s not clear that this applies to transportation. But other than that, it’s a great idea. I’ll be happy if the Lege can actually get something done on this, but I’m not counting on it.

House passes major changes to testing and graduation requirements

This is a big deal.

Texas public high school students would face far fewer high-stakes exams and gain more freedom in choosing courses under a major education bill approved by the state House on Tuesday.

Hours of debate among lawmakers centered on whether the state was giving students much-needed flexibility or scaling back too far – eliminating an Algebra II class as a standard graduation requirement, for example.

The bill, which is similar to proposals in the Senate, says students would have to pass five end-of-course exams to graduate, down from 15. It also scraps the default requirement that students take four years of math and science courses.

Supporters say House Bill 5 would decrease dropouts, letting students take more meaningful vocational classes that will prepare them for jobs after high school if they decide against college.

“I believe this is good policy. I think most people in Texas believe this is good policy,” Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said after his bill passed following nearly nine hours of discussion.

[…]

The legislation would end the three-tiered diploma system that kept some students on the lowest level from being admitted into most colleges.

All students now would have to complete a “foundation” curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.

Students could add on “endorsements” by taking courses in a speciality: business and industry; science, technology, engineering and math; public services; arts and humanities; or a mixture. Those students also would have to take a fourth math class, meant to raise the rigor, under an amendment from Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Students who complete an endorsement and take four years of science and math, including Algebra II, would meet the “distinguished” standard.

The Statesman notes the main issue debated during the daylong discussion of this bill, led by Rep. Mark Strama, who was one of only two votes against it.

A bipartisan coalition of members led by Strama argued that the state would be backing away from the rigorous requirements that have produced results, particularly among low-income and minority students, in the name of giving students flexibility.

“Every conversation I’ve had for months has revolved and swirled around this issue,” Aycock said.

Under current law, the 4×4 curriculum is the default graduation plan for all students unless they opt for a minimum plan requiring fewer credits for graduation that doesn’t qualify the student for a four-year college.

Strama put forth an amendment that would make the default plan under House Bill 5 the “distinguished diploma,” which is close to the 4×4 plan and a prerequisite to qualify for automatic college admission under the state’s top 10-percent law.

The distinguished diploma requires four years of science and math, including Algebra 2, rather than the three years called for in the “foundation diploma.” Algebra 2 is seen by many educators as a key indicator of whether a student is ready for college.

“We should assume all of them want a college prep curriculum and are capable of it, and let them decide if they don’t,” Strama said.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, signed on to Strama’s amendment and said he was concerned that looser requirements might be sending the state in the “slightly wrong direction,” away from ensuring students are prepared for the 21st century economy.

Forcing students to choose between an upper and lower track would stigmatize the foundation diploma as the lesser option when that isn’t the intention, said Aycock and his allies.

“It would have all these students have to admit at the very beginning of school: ‘I can’t hack this. I have to drop down to a lower level in order to get through high school,’” state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said of Strama’s amendment.

After nearly 90 minutes of debate, Strama’s amendment was set aside on a 97-50 vote.

Bill McKenzie, for one, heartily approved of Strama’s amendment. Strama explains his No vote here, and it’s worth your time to read it.

In a preview story, the Trib expanded on these concerns.

Over the past several years, Texas has had “significant gains among all students, especially those of low income backgrounds,” in college and career preparation, said Sonia Troche, the Texas regional director of La Raza. “What they are doing now is actually helping.”

Primary among the concerns of opponents like Troche is a provision that would do away with the state’s so-called 4X4 graduation plan, which requires four years of courses in math, science, social studies and English. Instead, students would complete a “foundation” program with four credits in English, three in math, two in science, three in social studies and then they would earn “endorsements” by completing five credits in areas of study like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

The array of choices available to students could prove difficult to navigate for low-income and minority students whose parents are not acquainted with the system because of language or educational barriers, Troche said. Under the current plan, the default is a diploma that requires all of the courses needed for college readiness. The proposal would also reduce the number of end-of-course exams students must from 15 to five total tests, one each in reading, writing, biology, algebra I and U.S. history.

“To a family that may not know all the details, they might think their son or daughter just graduated from high school and are now eligible for college,” Troche said. “But, in fact, if they did an endorsement type of program and graduated from high school but didn’t complete all the required courses, they would have a high school diploma, but would not ready to go to college.”

[…]

State education officials like Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams have joined Shapiro and Troche in sounding an alarm about the proposed changes.

Paredes said in a February interview that even if there are currently high-paying jobs in fields that do not require post-secondary education, the job opportunities for those without a college degree continue to dwindle.

“There’s an increasing amount of information that suggests career technical education is going to be done increasingly in two-year institutions, because once again, the demands of advanced manufacturing jobs and high skilled industrial jobs are growing,” he said.

High school, Paredes said, needs to prepare students to be successful in that setting.

At a Senate hearing Monday, Williams said he would recommend the number of required end-of-course exams to be reduced to eight — three more than under the HB 5 plan in either geometry or algebra II, world history or geography, and chemistry or physics. In remarks delivered around the state, he also said he does not support moving away from the 4X4 curriculum.

See Burka for more on that. I don’t agree much with the Texas Association of Business, which has been among the most stalwart supporters of the STAAR tests, to the point of hostage taking, but this is a valid concern, and it tracks with what I’ve been hearing from people who actually work in schools. Raise Your Hand Texas on the other hand seems pleased with HB5. I’m not sure what to make of all this just yet.

Rep. Harold Dutton knows what he makes of it.

No Child Left Behind, and its precursor Texas system, was created to make sure that, well, no child was left behind. But to Dutton’s way of thinking, no version of accountability, past to present, has touched the lives of African-American males in the Texas school system. So Dutton, being Dutton, proposed our accountability system be based solely on the progress of African-American males.

Aw, ever the jokester, that Dutton. On the floor, near the tail end of yesterday’s debate, Dutton talked about the dominance of African-American males in the state jails, county jails and the probation system.

“What’s the one thing they have in common, other than their race? You know what that one thing in common is?” Dutton asked from the front microphone of the House. “The TEAMS test didn’t help them. The TAAS test didn’t help them. The TAKS test didn’t help them. The end-of-course exams didn’t help them, and the reality is that House Bill 5 is not going to help them, either, unless we do something about it.”

And Dutton’s idea of doing something about it would be to judge school districts by how they teach the children on the bottom rung of academic progress. Needless to say, he didn’t get a lot of support in the House.

Not a lot of big-money lobbyists for that, I’m afraid.

The Observer tracked the amendments that were proposed for HB5.

The amended bill includes new requirements that STAAR tests be given later in the year—no sooner than the third week of May—and that copies of the test be released annually instead of every three years. (Strama introduced both of those.)

Amendments approved back-to-back by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) and Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) would bar anyone working for a test contractor like Pearson from making political contributions or serving on advisory committees for the state. The amendments appear targeted at Pearson lobbyist Sandy Kress, who serves on a Texas Education Agency committee on accountability.

Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) tacked on an amendment limiting the benchmark tests school districts can give to two benchmarks per STAAR test. The House also approved his amendment that requiring a review of the bill’s effects on graduation rates and college readiness.

Villarreal said he supports HB 5 because he’s seen how vocational opportunities help students in his district. He said some students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in school get to see how classroom concepts apply to the real world, and find high-paying jobs after graduation.

Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) voted for the bill, but tried in vain to add protections for rural students in small schools, who she worried wouldn’t have enough course options to finish one of the “endorsements” required for a distinguished diploma.

“My concern is that we have created a plan that is not available, not attainable to all students,” Patrick said. Some representatives suggested distance learning would solve that problem.

Strama sparked the day’s toughest debate around noon, with a proposal to make the college-ready “distinguished” path the default for students, reflecting concerns from higher ed leaders and some Latino and African-American members that HB 5 would leave too many minority students unprepared for college. Strama’s amendment failed, and he eventually voted against the bill.

After the vote, Strama told the Observer that while there are many issues with standardized testing in Texas, the problems are with the execution of the tests and not with the number of end-of course exams.

“I’m afraid that in the upper level coursework we’re going to have wildly varying degrees of rigor and achievement across the state,” he said. “It is more important than ever that we measure kids with one yardstick.”

As the state’s low-income population continues to grow, Strama said it’s more important that students in poor schools are held to the same tough standards as all students.

“If we can’t get those kids to pass these tests, we’re going to pay a high price, and saying they don’t have to pass the test isn’t going to solve the problem,” Strama said.

Here’s a press release from Rep. Villarreal on his amendments. Like I said, I’m still thinking about all this. To say the least, it’s a big and complicated subject, and I don’t claim any particular expertise. I am certain that there will be differences with the Senate bill, and there will be much horse-trading in conference committee. Reducing the number of exams, and aligning them with college admissions makes sense to me. Providing viable alternate paths to high school graduation that prepare kids for a professional career and aren’t viewed as lesser achievements is a good idea, too. I feel confident that whatever we do this session, we’ll be revisiting it next session, and likely again after that.

What can you get for $10,000?

You can now get a college degree – at some colleges, in some programs, if you’re lucky.

Many were skeptical when Gov. Rick Perry last year challenged Texas public colleges and universities to offer degrees costing no more than $10,000.

Now 14 institutions have embraced the concept, which Perry sees as a promising way to rein in college costs and increase access.

Several schools began offering bargain degrees this fall, and others are scheduled to start programs next year, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a cheerleader for the concept.

“We’ve really been a bully pulpit to look at ways to bend the cost curve in terms of tuition and fees,” board spokesman Dominic Chavez said. “We articulate it as a challenge. Ten thousand dollars is a goal. Let’s see how many programs we can get for affordable pathways.”

In-state tuition and fees in Texas have increased by 90 percent in eight years.

The average cost was about $7,300 per year in 2011-12.

[…]

“Our concern is that the idea of the $10,000 degree is diverting attention from the very real conversation about rising costs that must happen among all the members of the higher-education community,” said Ann McGlashan, an associate professor of German and Russian at Baylor University and president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors.

Texas and other states have dramatically cut higher-education money over the years, forcing tuition up. Now political leaders want to put pressure on universities to reverse the trend while ignoring cost-cutting measures they have already taken, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“While we support the idea, the $10,000 mark is an artificially set figure,” Hurley said. “To deliver a college education at or below that mark is a little too elementary, given all the dynamics at play. It gets folks excited, but it’s not a sophisticated approach to encouraging system performance.”

[…]

Baylor’s McGlashan said students eligible for $10,000 degrees often have attended well-funded high-schools that offer many dual-credit and Advanced Placement classes that give them a head start.

“It also targets those who know very early on what they want to do with their lives,” she said.

“We need to be talking about the students who don’t have these advantages and what can be done to bring down costs for them. It’s time to put everything on the table and think outside the box.”

I have not paid close attention to this piece of policy from Rick Perry, partly because I don’t take policy ideas from him seriously, and partly because there’s only so many things I can pay close attention to at one time. If this becomes a viable option for a significant number of students, then I will give him credit for it, however grudgingly. I just want to point out that getting a degree at any of the flagship public universities in Texas used to be a pretty affordable proposition, back before tuition was deregulated by Perry and Tom Craddick and the rest of the Republican legislature in 2003, in response to the first budget crisis faced during Perry’s tenure. A Google search for “University of Texas tuition 2003” led me to this page, which told me that the Undergraduate Flat-Rate Tuition Fall 2002 / Spring 2003 (per semester) at UT was $2,357.00 for College of Liberal Arts, and $2,504.00 for College of Natural Sciences. That’s per semester, so you’d be looking at about $20K in tuition over four years, and of course there’s still room and board and books and transportation, all of which students in the $10K Degree program would need to pay for as well. In return you’d have gotten a degree in the program of your choice at UT, not too shabby a deal if you ask me. The reason in-state tuition has increased so much in the past eight years – that is, since tuition deregulation became the law of the land – is because eight years ago the state greatly scaled back its financial support for public universities, and gave those universities the burden and the freedom to make up the difference by charging more. Point being, if we’d never deregulated in the first place but instead continued the long tradition of supporting public higher education in Texas, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Let’s not lose sight of that.

UH moves closer to Tier I status

Good for them.

The University of Houston is on the verge of accessing additional state money that could help catapult the school closer to prestigious Tier 1 status, according to a preliminary report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Both UH and Texas Tech University have been cleared to access the new National Research University Fund, pending a mandatory review by the state auditor’s office.

UH President Renu Khator said she hopes to use the money – the amount of which still needs to be determined – to recruit faculty, especially those in costly fields like science, technology and engineering.

“We have done a lot, but we have so much more to do,” she said Friday. “I want our city to be nationally and globally competitive. I want our university to be nationally and globally competitive.”

I’m sure that report exists somewhere on the THECB webpage, but if so I can’t find it. In any event, the state auditor will verify the findings then present its own report, and we’ll go from there. Getting to Tier I status will be good for UH, the city, and the state. I wish them the best of luck in the process.

From the “Don’t know much about history” department

Ladies and gentlemen, your State Board of Education at work.

A report ripping the new social studies standards for schoolchildren offers recommendations for how teachers can best skirt its shortcomings — although a state agency responsible for the group that produced the study disavows it.

The controversial curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education last year represent “a widespread pattern of neglect of college readiness skills,” according to the 64-page report developed by the Social Studies Faculty Collaborative of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“No student will succeed in college or the workplace if he confuses writings with speeches, conducts a one-sided analysis or simply spits back a string of memorized information,” it states. “No Texas parent would desire this for her child and no profit-minded Texas business leader would hire a graduate who had attained only these abysmal standards.”

The report, called “Bridging the Gap Between K-12 and College Readiness Standards in Texas: Recommendations for U.S. History”, is here, and an earlier report by the Fordham Institute, which I blogged about a few months ago, is here. The Coordinating Board, being a political institution, has distanced itself from the Collaborative’s report, calling it “individuals who did some independent analysis”, as if that were a bad thing. The point of that “independent analysis” is that a group of college professors are saying that Texas students who are educated to these standards will not be prepared for college or for life, which sure seems to me to be something we ought to be concerned about. For some painful, depressing, and outright embarrassing background, see here. The Texas Freedom Network has more.

What to do with the SBOE?

The Lege has many ideas about what to do with the state’s most embarrassing branch of government, some of which are better than others.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), wants the SBOE abolished under his House Bill 881 and all the board’s responsibilities directed to the Texas Education Agency and the commissioner of education. The 26-page piece of legislation transfers each of the board’s entrusted functions to the TEA and commissioner. Similarly, state Rep. José Menéndez (R-San Antonio) has proposed a constitutional amendment to dissolve the SBOE and create the Texas Education Commission in its stead. According to House Joint Resolution 91, the governor would appoint the new 15-member TEC from populous and rural areas. Members would also be required to have at least a decade of education or business experience.

I can’t say that I support either of these bills. The SBOE is awful, but I don’t see how converting them all to Governor’s appointees helps. The Governor has enough power, and I’d feel the same way with a different Governor as well.

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), a vocal critic of the SBOE’s social conservative bloc’s politicking and author of SBOE-related legislation, also opposes eradicating the board altogether. Rather, Howard supports milder legislation proposed by state Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) that would place the SBOE under Sunset Advisory review. Patrick’s HB 862 makes clear the board would not be at risk of being abolished.

Patrick specifically points out that the audit process is not intended for the sole purpose of reducing costs or abolishment, but instead aims to identify inefficient processes and streamline functions. She does not attribute her proposed legislation to the myriad of political and ideological accusations leveled at the board; instead she sees the bill as a means to eliminate redundancy across governmental entities

“In seeking reductions in state spending, it is prudent to examine functions and establish efficiencies within the State Board for Educator Certification and the State Board of Education at the same time the Texas Education Agency is under review in 2013,” Patrick said in an e-mail.

Here’s HB 862. This is an approach I could support, though I’d like to know more about what the sunset process would actually mean for the SBOE. In theory at least, I like this idea.

Former education committee member Howard has filed two SBOE bills; one that would strip the board of its authority to manage the multibillion Permanent School Fund and another that would require SBOE elections to be nonpartisan, just as local school board elections are.

“It’s important to look at the overall situation, not just have some kind of kneejerk response,” Howard said. “In regards to the PSF fund bill, it’s not about punishing the SBOE. It’s not about politics or ideology. It’s about making rational, reasonable decisions about how we should oversee public education in Texas in order to prepare our students for a 21st century economy.”

Legislation for the former proposal are HJR 85 and HB 1140, and HB 553 for the latter. As with judicial elections, I do not understand the allure of erasing the partisan identity of the candidates. It’s not like the interest groups that support the candidates would go away or be unaware of what colors an individual candidate is flying. All it will do is make the average voter less able to tell anything about them. I just don’t see how this makes a positive difference. I’m inclined to support the removal of PSF management from the SBOE – it seems like a misfit for a board that’s supposed to design curricula – but again, I’d like to know more about it first, and I’m leery of anything that would rely on gubernatorial appointments.

Conversely, some lawmakers hope to grant the SBOE even more power over education this legislative session. As previously reported by the Texas Independent, state Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan) proposes eliminating the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and transferring the board’s functions to TEA, which deals with K-12 public education. Under Brown’s HB 104, the SBOE would oversee the newly formed entity, instilling the 15-member board with a greater scope of authority. The lawmaker characterizes the bill as a way to streamline the state’s education process while also conserving the budget.

“They are smart people,” said Brown, who has no reservations about handing the controversial SBOE more influence than ever before. “They have to have a passion for what they do, or else they wouldn’t run for office in first place.”

Fred Brown is the same guy who’s pushing school district consolidation, in case that affects your opinion of it. I for one see no reason to expand the SBOE’s scope or powers in any way.

No clue what the odds of any of these bills are, but they’re out there so we should keep an eye on them. What do you think about these proposals?

What today’s budget cuts will mean tomorrow

We know cuts are coming to public education and higher education. Let’s turn once again to Steve Murdock, the former State Demographer who is now a professor at Rice University, to hear what that will mean for Texas’ future.

Texas’ prosperity hinges on education. The numbers are troubling, however. The state ranks 36th in the nation, with just 71.9 percent of students graduating from high school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. African-American and Hispanic students are twice as likely to drop out as Anglo students. By 2040, at least 30 percent of Texas’ work force will consist of workers without a high-school diploma if current trends continue, Murdock says. “If we don’t close the gaps now, there’s going to be a significant reduction in household income later,” he says.

A high school dropout is more likely to earn poverty-level wages of about $14,500 a year. That’s at least $7,000 less than someone with a high school diploma. The mounting costs for social services and the prison system should worry state leaders. Nearly 75 percent of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. Every year’s worth of dropouts means a loss of $377 million in Medicaid, prison expenses and lost tax revenue, according to the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

Another challenge is enrolling more students in higher education. Hispanics trail other students, making up just 29 percent of total college enrollment. In 2000, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created the “Closing the Gaps 2015” program, with the goal of enrolling 630,000 more Texans in college, including 5.7 percent of the Hispanic population, by 2015.

Enrollment is increasing, but slower than educators hoped. The agency admitted in its 2009 report that it had fallen behind on its goals to recruit more African-American males and Hispanics. One big hurdle is cost. Those who do have high school diplomas struggle to pay increasing tuition rates. More than 60 percent of students apply for student aid. But state-based grant and loan programs like the Texas Grant Program and B-On-Time Loan Program have run out of funding. With an estimated $24 billion state budget shortfall in 2011, it’s doubtful that those coffers will be replenished any time soon. For many, a four-year college degree is already out of reach.

The economic gap will continue to widen if more Texans don’t seek higher education degrees. A person with a college diploma can expect to make $1 million more on average in a lifetime than a person without a high school diploma, says economist Ray Perryman, president of the Perryman Group, a financial-analysis firm.

[…]

The state’s economic health in 2040 depends on whether its leaders today take a shortsighted approach to governing or choose to invest for the long term. With an estimated $24 billion budget shortfall this legislative session, lawmakers will be facing tough decisions that will have a ripple effect for future generations. “I hope that we don’t get into across-the-board cuts,” says Perryman. “When there’s budget cuts, education always seems to take it on the chin. We need some real leadership to prioritize our needs and make some tough decisions.”

If state leaders don’t make those tough decisions now, future generations could be less educated, less economically competitive, have higher levels of poverty and be in greater need of government assistance. It’s up to the state’s leadership and its people to reverse that course.

Sadly, this is the leadership we’ve got, and we all know what to expect from it. This will be Rick Perry’s legacy.

Reinventing higher education

More stuff from last week to catch up on: Good luck with that.

The state’s higher education agency called Thursday for sweeping changes in policy, including a revised method of funding community colleges and public universities, a greater emphasis on merit for certain financial aid and a series of cost-cutting measures.

The proposals, which would require legislative action, come at a difficult time for higher education: Enrollment is surging just as the state’s finances are looking increasingly bleak.

The latest estimates put the overall shortfall at about $24 billion for the next two-year budget.

“We want to reinvent public higher education — reinvent it in a more cost-efficient way and reinvent it in a way that gives better academic results,” said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes.

“And we think that we can do that. I’m sure we’ll need more financial resources over time, but not nearly as much as we would need if we didn’t change the way we deliver education.”

[…]

The recommendations on cost-cutting were developed for the coordinating board by a 20-member advisory panel of higher education leaders and business executives led by Fred W. Heldenfels IV , the board’s chairman. Perry issued an executive order last year directing the board to look for savings, and perhaps not surprisingly, some recommendations echo policies the governor has urged lawmakers to adopt in recent years.

The coordinating board wants 10 percent of the base funding for universities to be indexed to so-called “student outcomes,” such as graduation rates; total degrees awarded; degrees awarded to students from low-income families or those otherwise deemed at-risk; and degrees in science, technology, engineering, math and other fields considered high-priority.

Ten percent of community college funding would be on the basis of degrees awarded, certificates completed, college-level math course completions and other performance measures.

Currently, base funding is strictly a function of enrollment. Paredes said the recommendation was limited to 10 percent of base funding to avoid making draconian changes in the middle of a budget crisis. But that should be enough to prompt improvements, he said, and the percentage could be ramped up later.

These and other recommendations could save $4.2 billion over four years by raising graduation rates and achieving other cost efficiencies, Heldenfels said.

I’m sure anything that involves cost savings will get a hearing next spring. I’m less sure about the part where funding increases over time. Like I said, good luck with that.

Creationists concede

A small bit of good news for Texas education.

Henry Morris III, the CEO of the Institute for Creation Research, has announced the end of the school’s fight with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

In 2008, after the board denied the institute’s request for authority to offer a master’s degree in science education, the Dallas-based Christian institution filed a lawsuit. In June, a U.S. District Court ruled against the institute, upholding the board right to refuse the certification.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, assigned to hear the case, complained that he had requested a “a short and plain statement of the relief requested,” but that the plaintiff was “entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.”

At the time of the decision, an institute spokesman issued a statement saying, “The attorneys and leadership of ICR associated with this case are currently reviewing Judge Sparks’ ruling and we are weighing our options regarding future action in this matter.”

You should go back and read about the original case, and Judge Sparks’ ruling in it, since it covers some interesting ground. There’s more from the NCSE about the original ruling and the concession as well. The bottom line is that the ICR can teach whatever it wants, but the state of Texas doesn’t have to officially recognize it.

Score one for science

Good.

On its website, the Institute for Creation Research promises an education that is “Biblical. Accurate. Certain.” But there’s one thing they can’t promise: a master’s degree in science education.

In 2008, after the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board denied their request for a state certificate of authority to offer such a degree, the Dallas-based Christian institution took the THECB to court. On Friday, a U.S. District Court ruled against the ICR, upholding the THECB’s right to refuse them certification.

According to the judge’s summary of the case, Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes refused the request because he “found the proposed program’s curriculum was inconsistent with the standards or conventions of science and science education, and secondly, he found the program’s curriculum was inconsistent with the Board’s standards … relating to curriculum.”

It seems the ICR may have acted as their own worst enemy as the case proceeded. In his ruling the judge writes, “It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.”

You can see that ruling here. All I can say is thank God there’s one less thing for the state to be a laughingstock about. Hair Balls and the NCSE have more.

The costs and rewards of pursuing Tier I

It’s going to cost a lot of money for the schools that have been authorized to pursue Tier I status to actually achieve it.

The University of Houston estimates it would cost an additional $70 million a year to reach its goal by 2015. The University of Texas at El Paso’s plan ultimately could add almost $200 million a year to its operating budget.

New state funds will help, but much of the money will come from the universities themselves, requiring substantial private fundraising even as the economy continues an uneven recovery.

“We would like to be back to the good old days where the state subsidized us more than it does but realistically, there’s not going to be a lot more money from the state,” said John Antel, the chief academic officer for UH. “We can’t charge students much more. We’re going to have to go out and raise the money.”

The potential reward for all that investment is also quite substantial.

The strategic plans filed with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spell out how each school hopes to get there.

All intend to add both students and faculty, with faculty who will bring $1 million or more in research grants especially prized. And all seven promise to maintain or increase the number of minority students they serve.

You can find all of those strategic plans, including ones for the already-Tier-I UT and Texas A&M, here. The end result should be thousands of new jobs – not just faculty, but also staff to support the increased enrollments and new programs; I’d bet there will also be some construction involved as well – more students attending Texas universities, and higher graduation rates. Oh, and more high-end research being conducted in Texas as well. The economic impact of all this ought to be quite large. I can’t wait to see it come about.