Guest Column
From the Offices of
State Senator Rodney Ellis

Senator Jeff Wentworth
Secretary of State Henry Cuellar

77th Legislative Session
Contact: Jeremy Warren
(512) 463-8393

Texas Must Do More To Open Doors To College

"About the only thing more expensive than going to college is not going to college." Thomas G. Mortenson

It has been said that the rapidly-growing high tech industry is the engine driving the Texas economy. If that is the case, our economy could be stuck on empty because Texas is not producing enough of the fuel that powers the digital economy -- college graduates.

In the past decade, Texas has done everything but roll out the red carpet to help lure high tech businesses into the state. Our efforts have paid off. Since 1993, Texas has created 130,000 high tech jobs, and now employs 411,000 in high tech industries such as computer and software manufacturing, semiconductors and communications, more than the oil and gas drilling, agriculture, food products and petroleum refining sectors combined. These jobs pay nearly twice the average private sector job in Texas, have better benefits and afford greater opportunity for advancement and growth than many other service sector jobs. But all our efforts will mean nothing unless we do more to open the doors to college, because other states are investing more to create a highly-skilled, highly-educated workforce.

In the new economy, what you earn depends on what you learn, and Texas is just not producing enough college graduates to meet the demand. If we are serious about keeping Texas at the forefront of the high tech revolution, we must do more to help Texans get the college education they need to succeed.

Texas stands at the crossroads. We've successfully lured high tech industries to Texas, but we have not done enough to produce the college graduates they need to move forward and grow. We rank near the bottom in producing college graduates; and even as direct state aid has dropped in recent decades, and the cost of going to college in Texas is now higher than the national average. In fact, tuition and fee costs have risen an alarming 81% since 1992, pricing more and more middle class families out of an education.

Last session, we fought to create the $100 million TEXAS (Toward EXcellence, Access, & Success) Grant program, which provides tuition and fees for students who have taken the advanced or recommend curriculum in high school and come from families earning less than $25,000 a year. The TEXAS Grant program is already a success, providing 20,000 Texas students the opportunity to go to college that they otherwise might not have been able to afford. The Senate Finance Committee has quadrupled funding for this vital program, providing $400 million over the biennium, which will expand eligibility to families earning up to $75,000 a year and will provide grants to over 100,000 students every year. This dramatic funding increase will help Texas compete with other states for high tech jobs. California, for example, spends nearly $1 billion a year on a similar program, and Georgia, a state one fourth our size, invests $175 million a year on their version of the program. These are the states Texas is competing with for high tech, high wage jobs, and if we can't produce the skilled workers needed to fuel the technology economy, then we will see jobs go to other states.

To ensure that more Texans have the opportunity to go to college, we have proposed tripling the funding for TEXAS Grants to $306 million, which would expand eligibility to families earning up to $50,000 and provide grants to over 100,000 students. This investment will pave the way for an entire generation of Texans to get a college education and ensure Texas has the skilled workforce needed to drive the new economy.

In the digital age, a college education is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. If we do not begin to produce more highly educated, highly skilled workers, the Texas high tech boom of the nineties will become a high tech bust in the first years of the 21st Century.

(Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), Chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, and Secretary of State Henry Cuellar are the joint authors of the TEXAS Grant Program.)