Texas Gov. Greg Abbott jumped into the college affordability debate Monday, announcing the formation of a new tri-agency task force that will examine this issue. The task force will also review job creation concerns to best address the state’s workforce needs and goals.
“Understanding the needs of job creators is paramount to ensuring that Texas remains the top state for business expansion and relocation,” Abbott said in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “This past session, we made economic strides by investing in our workforce and further reducing taxes and regulations. By establishing this initiative, the State of Texas now seeks to ensure that the needs of both its growing workforce as well as new and existing businesses are met and each are prepared to successfully operate in an ever-changing 21st century economy.”
Led by Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Commissioner Raymund Paredes, and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Commissioner Andres Alcantar, the task force aims to identify ways to make college more affordable, among other charges in the initiative.
The issue of college affordablity remains a high priority to state lawmakers. Recently, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted to raise tuition system wide at 13 of the 14 universities they control. In response, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, critical of the increase, authored a letter to university presidents and chancellors. The lawmakers pointed out that the state passed a budget which dramatically increased higher education funding during the 84th legislative session.
“It is discouraging to see Texas higher education institutions seek to increase the financial burden faced by students and their families rather than developing methods to cut institutional costs. Student debt is already at an all-time high, with students taking lnger to complete their degrees and incurring a greater amount of debt each year,” Patrick and Seliger wrote.
In 2003, the Texas Legislature gave state universities the ability to set their own tuition fees and rate increases. The jointly authored letter requests that these top university officials submit a host of data to Patrick and Seliger, including tuition rates and fee increases plus college completion rates as far back as 2002-03 for review.
In addition to exploring ways to make college more affordable for families and help students enter the workforce more quickly with marketable skills, the Governor’s initiative assigns the three commissioners with tasks that include identifying local workforce needs and developing models that support those workforce needs, with an emphasis on career and technical education (CTE) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
They will evaluate existing web-based ways to link students, parents, and educators to high-demand jobs, career pathways and the educational requirements for these positions. The commissioners will recommend ways to build the skills of the Texas workforce and grow job creation in line with Abbott’s 60×30 plan, which aims for 60 percent of the workers between the ages of 25 and 34 completing some form of postsecondary education by the year 2030.
The task force will also identify gaps in services to Texas veterans to better assist in their seamless re-entry into the workforce.
Seven regional higher education workforce meetings will be held around the state over the next six months, beginning in March and ending in September with an Austin-held summit in September.
Those dates are:
March 10 – Midland
April 26 – San Antonio
April 29 – Houston
May 11 – Dallas
May 20 – El Paso
May 25 – McAllen
June 2 – Tyler/Longview
September TBA – Austin Workforce Summit
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.