The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) rolled out an ambitious college and career plan that intends to boost college degrees and/or other post-secondary credentials in the state 60 percent by 2030.
Called 60x30TX, the 15-year plan by the Texas Education Higher Education Board targets Texans aged 25 to 34 as the demographic the coordinating board wants to see an increase in higher education certification.
The strategic plan seeks for 550,000 students to complete a certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree from an institution of higher education in Texas. Its other core goals are that all graduates from Texas public institutions of higher education will have completed programs with identified marketable skills; and undergraduate student loan debt will not exceed 60 percent of first-year wages for graduates of Texas public institutions.
THECB needed a new long-range plan since the current Closing the Gaps ends this year. That, too, served as a 15-year campaign instituted in 2000.
Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes called 60x30TX an ambitious goal but believes it is achievable. He told KERA News: “I think it’s a stretch but I think it’s something we should aspire to. It’s that level of education we’re going to need in order to be economically competitive. I think we can stretch a little bit more and get even better results.”
Presently, 38 percent of Texans have degrees or certificates. According to the Texas Tribune, Closing the Gaps aimed to have 163,000 degrees awarded annually by 2015. The state achieved that goal with numbers improving especially for minorities.
The Tribune underscored that the state would rank fifth in the world in the world in educational attainment among residents aged 55 to 64 years old, if it were its own country but drops to 25th place for its young people between the ages of 25 and 34.
The THECB plan also accounts for the state’s changing demographics. Texas has the highest percentage of black and Hispanic students in the country. The THECB anticipates that the future 25 to 34 year-old population will be “increasingly Hispanic.”
Breitbart Texas reported that the state’s Hispanic population is expected to surpass Anglo population by 2020, increasing to nearly 2.3 times its size in 2010 to 21.5 million by 2050. By 2042, Hispanic population is expected to become the majority of the state’s total population.
Hispanic and black student populations have been underrepresented in the state’s higher education but “are critical” to the success of 60x30TX, according to the coordinating board. Finding ways to help those students get into college and pay for their schooling will be vital to the state’s future, they say.
Under Closing the Gaps, Hispanic participation in higher education rose in 2014, although at a slower pace than the benchmarks set by the THECB. Black student participation remained on target until 2013 and 2014 when it dropped, according to the Tribune.
Workforce readiness and workplace alignment permeate public education throughout college and career readiness (CCR) cluster pathways and the more vocational based career and technical education (CTE). Even the 60x30TX plan was written by a committee of business and higher education leaders “who expressed concerns that the state is falling behind other states and countries,” says the Tribune.
The plan cites the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which suggests that fewer than 60 percent of workers need a college degree to “satisfy workforce demand.”
The higher education coordinating board does not stray from workforce alignment. In 60x30TX it considers that “the primary reason most students attend college: to get a better job and achieve a better life” and it adds the “employers’ desires to remain competitive, and the state’s need for a robust economy.”
Furthermore, it notes its purpose as strengthening “the excellence and quality in Texas higher education by challenging the state’s two- and four-year institutions to prepare students for the jobs of the future, while also inspiring them to contribute to a greater Texas society.”
However, the board also insists that a degree isn’t enough. “Texas students will need to match their credentials to employer needs.”
Otherwise, Jeff Strohl of Georgetown University states in the report, these higher education degrees could up unemployment and “higher levels of mismatch.”
Mismatch happens when a worker’s skill set is not aligned to an employer’s needs. Breitbart Texas reported on how workforce-centric learning, middle-skill leveled jobs and vocational pursuits drive public education in the quest for these classroom-to-career skill sets.
They claim that the phased out Closing the Gaps by 2015 had mixed results, according to Commissioner Paredes. More high school graduates did finish college than before the program.
However, where Closing the Gaps changed the educational emphasis from high school graduation to college access and success, 60x30TX targets college completion rates and workforce readiness.
The Dallas Business Journal pointed out that Paredes told the State Board of Education in April, “Every educator knows education is no longer the engine of social and economic mobility that this country was built on.”
He said, “The cleavages between the affluent and the poor are growing deeper and wider. We have to do something about it.”
This echoed Dallas Mayor Rawlings, who recently fretted over his city’s competitive economic edge if it had a skills gap. Through the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and CTE, city officials influence public education, as Breitbart Texas reported.
Paredes also voiced his concerns over the “several hundred thousand young people in Texas who’ve accumulated 50 or more hours of credit at public colleges or universities and they’ve never finished a degree.” He also told KERA, “We need to go back and attract those students and get them to finish their credentials.”
Breitbart Texas reported on the national movement to raise higher education rates by salvaging credits through reverse transfer, the process of retroactively awarding community college transfer students associate’s degrees from four-year universities.
The coordinating board says 60x30TX is about the state remaining competitive and prosperous and the plan “cannot be postponed without postponing the progress of Texas.”
THECB was created by the Texas Legislature in 1965 to “provide leadership and coordination for the Texas higher education system to achieve excellence for the college education of Texas students.” The Board is made up of nine members appointed by the Governor for six-year terms. The Governor also appoints the chair and vice-chair.
Its mission is to promote access, affordability, quality, success, and cost efficiency in the state’s institutions of higher education. The board seeks a globally competent workforce that positions Texas as an international leader in an increasingly complex world economy.
Last year, Breitbart Texas reported that Paredes flip-flopped on his original stance over HB 5, the state’s 2013 college and career ready education reforms. Originally, he shared concerns about inferior K-12 “rigor” HB5 offered in a Dallas Morning News interview. He felt it would lead to “a decline in college readiness.”
Paredes warned that “there will be a decline in the percentage of low income students and students of color who are college-ready and likely to attend college. We will be less competitive economically with other states and globally, particularly in high-tech and STEM areas.”
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.