Which public university in Texas has the lowest average student SAT scores? Which is the whitest? Which has the highest four-year graduation rate? Yesterday, questions such as these required a bit — maybe even a lot — of digging on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s website. Starting today, the answers (in order: Texas Southern University, Texas A&M University at Galveston and University of Texas at Austin) can be found easily.
The coordinating board will release the first-ever Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, an easy-to-read compilation of pertinent data on every four-year and two-year institution in the state (the institutions provided the information and confirmed its accuracy). The glossy document will be released as widely as possible, including to all institution presidents, system chancellors, regents and legislators.
“This isn’t just for the insiders of higher ed,” says coordinating board spokesman Dominic Chavez. “We’re really trying to put this into the hands of as many people as possible because it isn’t a one-shot deal. We’re hoping this will be a regular fixture.”
According to Raymund A. Paredes, the Texas higher education commissioner, the idea for the almanac grew out of a conversation he had with David Gardner, deputy commissioner for academic planning and policy, and a group of community college leaders. When Paredes went over their performance, the college representatives were shocked by how poor it was, and they questioned where Paredes had gotten it. “From you,” he told them.
“It occurred to me that it wasn’t sufficient to simply have the data available on our website,” Paredes says. “You need to put it in people's hands in order for it to really have an impact.
Paredes will be joined by Gov. Rick Perry at the announcement of the almanac. It’s the sort of thing that pairs well with Perry’s higher education agenda. In 2004, he issued an executive order that all boards of regents for public institutions of higher education work with the coordinating board “to create a comprehensive system of accountability.”
Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier says, “This marks another step forward in the effort to increase accountability and transparency in our higher education institutions.”
Other higher education leaders in the Legislature are similarly encouraged. House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, believes the almanac will be a good aid for crafting policy. “Having complete and current data is an important tool,” he says. “I think this thing will help us see not only the forest but also the trees.”
Some institutions might not welcome the sunlight as eagerly as others.
"I think there will be some institutions that will not be pleased that these data are so easily available," Paredes says, "but once again the data is certified by the institutions."
Graduation rates in Texas (statewide average: 49.3 percent) leave something to be desired. For example, the University of Texas El Paso's four-year graduation rate is 10 percent — which, by the way, is far from the worst. It's six-year rate is 35 percent. UTEP President Diana Natalicio has made the case that measuring six-year graduation rates for each school is unfair, because those with a higher volume of working students are disadvantaged. Indeed, the school's 10-year graduation rate is more than 45 percent.
"Forty-five percent is not what we'd like to see, but it's a whole lot better than 35 percent," Paredes says, noting that the data highlights differences between institutions. If students at UT in Austin haven't graduated in six years, they aren't likely to finish. The difference between their 10-year and six-year rate is less than 2 percent.
As a whole, the data clearly shows that Texas has a lot of work to do as a state. In terms of the benchmarks to close the gaps between Texas and similar states, Texas dramatically trails ts 2010 goals for issuing degrees in science and technology fields as well as teacher certifications. While female enrollment is growing quickly, male participation in higher education is lagging, especially among minorities. "That's clearly something we need to focus on," Paredes says. "Men of color are in short supply in higher education."
The state's average ACT composite score ranks 33rd. The average SAT reading score is 35th, while math is 34th. Texas ranks 26th in attainment of bachelor's degrees, but 34th in attainment of graduate degrees."We want people to have the data in their hands to make of it what they will," says Gardner, the deputy commissioner.
After all, says Paredes, "The worst way to make policy is by anecdote."
For more, peruse the almanac below. You might notice, for example, how the combined endowments of all seven emerging research universities pale in comparison to UT's and A&M's — or acceptance rates at those tier-one schools aren't as low as you may have thought. You can also follow this link to a chart that allows you to interact with the data yourself.