OP ED
From the Office of State Senator Troy Fraser

For Immediate Release
March 15, 2002
Contact: William A. Scott - (512) 463-0124

Texas Must Close the Gaps in Higher Education

By Senator Troy Fraser

The very nature of being a state senator requires you to learn something about virtually every area of public policy, but I have always had a special place in my heart for higher education.

That's why it's troubling to know that Texas lags behind other states in the standard level of higher of education, and that we're far below the national average in enrollment, on-time graduations, quality and research.

But as a result of legislation passed last year and signed by Governor Rick Perry, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has launched a statewide awareness and motivational campaign to address the problem.

About one million Texans are now enrolled in higher education, representing only five percent of the state's population -- far below other large states like California, New York and Michigan -- according to the higher education board's report, "Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan."

In the past, Texas colleges and universities have attempted to increase the enrollment rate and solve the problem by focusing on recruiting efforts. But in addition to recruitment, higher education leaders should also work to improve the retention and graduation rates of their students.

To meet that objective, Texas public institutions of higher education are now required to implement an undergraduate tuition rebate program. Students may receive up to $1,000 if they are Texas residents and do not take more than three semester hours beyond their degree requirement. This financial incentive should motivate students to finish their college education and graduate on time.

An increased effort should also be made to enroll more high school students in college-preparatory classes. Those courses serve as a good foundation for high school students and ease the transition into university life, increasing the likelihood that those students will stay in college and earn their degrees.

By 2015, the higher education board also wants to add 500,000 more students to the system by developing an affordability policy, in part by increasing the number of available grants and scholarships, and by raising awareness about financial aid programs.

If we don't see improvement in participation and graduation rates, the consequences are significant: the poverty rate in Texas will increase by three percent and the average Texas household income will decline by $3,000 in constant dollars by 2030, according to the Texas State Data Center. We also need to increase the level of educational success in terms of completing degrees on time. Currently, less than half of the students who enter a public university will graduate with a bachelor's degree in six years. The higher education board wants to increase the number of Texans who earn degrees and certificates from high-quality programs by 50 percent over the next 13 years.

Quality is the third area of the education system that needs to be reformed. Texas needs to substantially identify and increase the number of nationally recognized programs and services at colleges and universities, a move that should influence more residents to attend colleges and universities.

The final area of education that needs to be modified is research. Currently, Texas is behind the national average in federal research funding. In 1998, Texas had two schools listed among the top 40 in federal grants, while California had seven. The higher education board's goal is to increasing the level of federal funding for science and engineering research by 50 percent, to $1.3 billion. Over the next few years, the agency is also working to build better research and technology programs by establishing a competitive grant system and encouraging collaboration among state universities.

By making significant improvements to the accessibility and quality of higher education, the future of both the residents and the state will be enriched, literally.

College graduates make $1.2 million more in total salary over their lifetime than non-graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Higher earnings contribute to the state's economic base through taxes and reduce the number of residents needing public assistance. Degree holders also have greater job satisfaction, more employment opportunities and are more likely to give back to their communities.

By developing clear benchmarks and measures of success, the higher education board and the Legislature will work to ensure the future success of Texas residents and encourage the economic growth of the state.

For more information on higher education, please call the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board at (512) 427-6101 or visit their Web site at: www.thecb.state.tx.us.

State Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, represents a 21-county district that includes the Highland Lakes region.

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