With 10 years of it complete, it’s time to check in on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 15-year initiative to close the gaps between Texas and other states in student achievement in higher education.
A progress report released this week by the THECB shows that enrollment around the state has continued to climb as have the number of degrees conferred. The fall of 2009 brought with it 122,000 new college students in Texas, including 20,000 students in career colleges. When the Closing the Gaps initiative began, 4.9 percent of the Texas population participated in higher education. That number is now up to 5.8 percent. The report notes that "African Americans became the best-represented of the three major ethnicities in Texas higher education, with a 6.5 percent participation rate and enrollment that already exceeded 2010 and 2015 targets."
Despite some successes and the surpassing of some goals, the report (available on the right) is not entirely rosy. As the 2015 deadline approaches, some categories — teacher certifications, for one — are even losing ground. The following is a paragraph from the progress report detailing what still needs to happen to close the gaps in the next five years:
For all these positive results, Texas higher education still has a long way to go to meet other targets by 2015. Only 4.4 percent of Hispanic Texans participated in higher education in fall 2009 (the 2015 target is 5.7 percent statewide and for the major ethnicities). African American male participation, at 5.1 percent, was nearly three percentage points lower than for African American females (7.8 percent). Undergraduate awards earned by African American and Hispanic students remained somewhat below trend lines for reaching CTG targets. New teacher certifications slid even further below the level of progress needed to meet the CTG target. Undergraduate awards in STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) fields and math and science teacher certifications have had such dismal growth rates that the state must more than double both of them in six years to reach 2015 targets. The state’s share of total U.S. obligations for research and development in science and engineering dropped from 6.1 percent in FY 2003 to 5.6 percent in FY 2004 and has essentially stayed there through FY 2007 (the most recent year with available data), well below 6.5 percent, the 2015 target.
Earlier this year, the THECB released "The Accelerated Plan for Closing the Gaps by 2015," which will re-focus the initiative on the lagging areas. “The Accelerated Plan is a part of a comprehensive strategy focused on student success and cost efficiency being developed by the Coordinating Board,” Board Chairman Fred W. Heldenfels said in a statement. “It is clear we need more state investment in higher education, but Texas owes it to taxpayers, and parents and students paying tuition, to get better results for that investment.”