Turning a “D” Into an “A” at Texas Colleges and Universities

(Originally posted in the Opportunity Texas blog)
by Leslie Helmcamp

Texas’ colleges and universities just received their report cards and the grades are mixed. While Texas leads much of the country on transparency and accountability, our two-year institutions made low grades for student access and success. Even though Texas’ four-year institutions made a satisfactory grade on student access and success, just under half (49 percent) of students at public four-year institutions graduate within six years, a figure much lower than other large states such as California at 64.4 percent, New York at 63.9 percent, and Florida at 55.4 percent.

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released the state-by-state report card on postsecondary education, Leaders & Laggards, highlighting performance on key higher education benchmarks, including: Student access & success; efficiency & cost-effectiveness; meeting labor market demand; transparency & accountability; policy environment; and innovation.

Texas may have a big problem when it comes to student success, but turning a “D” into an “A” requires both improvements in how our state studies and prepares for the test.

In our new report, The Cost of College: How Texas Students and Families are Financing College, OpportunityTexas calls on the state to tackle the issues of student access and success by reforming and enhancing our state’s financial aid toolkit. We specifically call on the state to declare a statewide goal to reduce student loan dependence. Without grants to cover college costs, many Texas college students struggle to remain in school and often work long hours, take a lighter course load, and assume growing debt just to stay in school.  Far too many Texans withdraw from school with debt, but no credential or degree.

These trends are alarming as many current and future Texas college students have limited financial resources, with six out of every ten Texas public school students being economically disadvantaged, or eligible for free or reduced school lunch. Without a clear, predictable, and well-funded need-based financial aid system, Texas will have little chance for getting an “A” in college access and success.

This summer and fall, the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee (SHEC) is addressing their major interim priorities, including financial aid, developmental education, transfer and articulation agreements, technology and student supports, among others. At SHEC’s June 20th hearing, the committee examined the three interim charges covering student success, technology, and developmental education. The Center for Public Priorities’ OpportunityTexas staff submitted written testimony outlining our key recommendations for improving student success. We believe that Texas can achieve greater student success through the following strategies:

  • Declare a statewide goal to reduce student loan dependence.
  • Promote and fund matched savings accounts for college and other account-based scholarships for students—beginning no later than the 7th grade.
  • Promote and fund early financial preparation strategies for college.
  • Ensure that Texas K-12 Grade Students Learn Strategies to Plan and Pay for College.
  • Enhance student support services.
  • Require and offer a credit-bearing student success course for All Texas Community College Students.