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Grant Will Help Community College Students Get Up to Speed

Texas' institutions of higher education are increasingly looking to outside sources for help tackling low graduation rates. This week, Complete College America announced a million-dollar grant to help Texas handle students who show up to college ill-prepared.

Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, speaks as state representatives Dan Branch, Donna Howard, and Diane Patrick look on.

With state funding on the decline, institutions of higher education in Texas must increasingly look to outside sources for help tackling problems such as low graduation rates. This week, Complete College America, a national nonprofit focused on boosting higher education success, announced a million-dollar grant to help Texas handle students who show up to college ill-prepared.

Currently, 48 percent of students in Texas community colleges require some help to get up to speed. When it comes to math, 38 percent of those enrolling in community college do not meet readiness standards. Traditionally, such students have been put in remedial courses until they're ready to move on to college-level work. For many, this proves an insurmountable roadblock on their journey through the higher education pipeline. Stan Jones, president of the nonprofit group, puts it more bluntly: "There's been research done that essentially says remediation doesn't work."

In 2008, with state funding, Selina Vasquez Mireles, a professor of mathematics at Texas State University, started a program addressing this issue that shows promise. She allowed students to complete remedial work in conjunction with credit-bearing courses, instead of as a prerequisite, thus speeding their time to a degree. Inspired by her work, the million-dollar grant will expand this approach to 15 community colleges throughout the state.

A recent study from Georgetown University found that by 2018, 56 percent of Texas jobs will require a college degree. With the health of the economy on their minds, state leaders are hoping to expand programs like Mireles' even further. Texas is nearing the end of a 15-year initiative known as "Closing the Gaps" aimed at boosting completion rates and bringing the state's higher education outputs up to par with comparable states. But the state is trying to make these improvements with decreasing funds.

"We are in critical need of it right now because some of the programs that were helping us close the gaps and deal with developmental education have been cut," state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said of the new grant.

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Chairman Fred Heldenfels said that, knowing cuts were coming, developmental education was made one of the state's budgetary priorities in the last session. "We were pretty happy to come out with what we did," he said, "but this grant just about makes us whole again."

Out of 33 states that applied, Texas was one of 10 that received the Complete College America grant, made possible by $10 million given to the group by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While the money may help, Jones said it was as much a "vote of confidence in the Texas strategy."

In a press conference, House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, noted that the state's size and rapidly changing demographics made it an attractive place for organizations to invest in education innovation initiatives like this one.  "If it can get done in Texas," Jones added, "it can happen in the rest of the country."

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