A native of El Paso and a graduate of the University of Texas, Raymund Paredes spent most of his academic career teaching English and working as an administrator at the University of California, Los Angeles. By the time he returned home to become Texas commissioner of higher education in 2004, the state had already identified an impending higher education crisis.
In 2000, with participation and success rates at Texas colleges lagging significantly behind those of comparable states, a plan was adopted to bring Texas up to the level of its peers within 15 years. “Too few higher education programs are noted for excellence and too few higher education research efforts have reached their full potential,” noted the authors of Closing the Gaps by 2015. “Texas must take bold steps for the future success of its people.”
A decade later, multiple targets still haven’t been met and many higher education metrics remain less than encouraging: Only five public universities have six-year graduation rates above 50 percent, only three out of 10 full-time community college students earn any credential after six years, and only 22 percent of students graduate from high school college-ready. Seeking to refocus their efforts on key improvements, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which Paredes oversees, released an accelerated version of the Closing the Gaps plan in January.
On Tuesday, Paredes sat down with the Tribune to talk about the state of higher education in Texas and the bold steps that still need to be taken — and if, given the size of the coming budget shortfall, we can afford to take them.