Study Slams Texas Higher Education

The Chron’s got a report on a study by UPenn which basically slams Texas Higher Education.

The report notes that college enrollment is up, more degrees are being awarded and educational leaders are pushing to boost the national ranking of the state’s colleges and universities.

The study by the University of Pennsylvania‘s Institute for Higher Education Research, however, offers a cautionary note.

“If Texas spreads its finite financial resources among too many priorities, however worthy, it is unlikely to get a handle on the soaring tuition that is threatening to price more and more Texans out of a college education, thus perpetuating racial and economic disparities,” the report says.

The report touches specifically on a few things that I worried about when the whole “Tier 1” election was happening, and the reason I voted against it.

• The state’s emphasis on expanding seven emerging research universities could divert funding from efforts to boost college enrollment and produce more job-ready college graduates, a trade-off that “state leaders have not recognized.”

• The state falls far short of national averages in most measures of college readiness, enrollment, and graduation rates. For example, only 32 percent of Texans 25 or older have earned at least an associate’s degree, putting Texas 39th among states in that measure.

• Long known for low tuition rates and low financial aid rates, Texas has now become a state where tuition is increasing substantially but financial aid has not kept pace. In 2009, students at public universities were paying 72 percent more than they had been six years earlier, forcing many families to borrow more money or forgo college.

• There are “huge inequities” among racial and socioeconomic groups, with blacks and Latinos making up half the state’s population, yet lagging in college attainment and readiness. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, 43 percent of whites have at least an associate degree, compared to 28 percent of blacks and only 15 percent of Latinos.

• State funding for community and technical colleges hasn’t kept pace with rising enrollment at those schools, which enroll more than half of all students seeking a postsecondary education and serve a disproportionate number of poor and minority students.

The fact that many of these “emerging” institutions have less than stellar graduation and retention rates set off an alarm for me back in 2009. Yes, research money is needed; however, my fear has been that a lack of commitment to increase grad and retention rates would put Texas higher education into a tailspin, and the Republicans ensured that with their last budget.

And this line from one of the authors, Jodi Finney, is quite telling:

“Texas is very anxious to become California, to create more research-intensive universities. But California made a huge trade-off. Access and opportunity for research comes at the expenses of funding other areas,” said Finney. “If Texas siphons off resources to expand research universities, students – especially Latinos – will be harder hit.”

And with Rick Perry’s recent promise to cut into funding for the type of programs which are needed, what exactly is going to happen in 2013? The study is spot-on when it says some tough choices need to be made.

Do we want to graduate more students? Or is the priority some artificial status that does little to bring up grad and retention rates?