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Report Recommends Strategy to Graduate College Students Faster

Fewer than one-third of Texas students entering four-year universities graduate within four years. A new report released on Thursday offers some ideas for improving that and other sobering higher education statistics.

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A nonpartisan organization aiming to boost the number of Americans with college degrees says the Lone Star State is facing a "Texas-sized problem."

Fewer than one-third of Texas students entering four-year universities graduate within four years, according to a new report from Complete College America. Fewer than one-sixth of students complete community college in two-years. Over the course of five years, more than $440 million in state appropriations and grant aid goes to university dropouts, as well as more than $60 million in federal grants. Each year, Texans earn $57 million worth of college credits that are not needed for their degrees.

The report offers what it calls "game-changer strategies" to improve those numbers. Some of those are already being implemented or considered in Texas, though the authors conclude that Texas has "not fully" embraced these proposals — at least, not yet.

The first recommendation in the "Complete College Texas" report is to tie some state appropriations for universities to performance — often referred to in the Texas Capitol as "outcomes-based funding" — to encourage institutions to produce graduates. Ten states do this already, and six more are in the process of transitioning to such a model, though each state has its own take on it.

The concept has been embraced by the state's Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry and House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas. But efforts to implement it here have fallen short over the last two legislative sessions. Such a strategy was not included in the budget by either the House or the Senate, though it could be added by a conference committee before the end of session.

The report proposes having students do remedial work in conjunction with credit-bearing courses rather than as a prerequisite for those courses. The majority of higher education students placed in remedial courses end up dropping out. The report notes that there are pilot programs at Texas State University and the University of Texas at Austin to rethink remedial math education.

The report also recommends promoting on-time graduation. An average of 15 credits per semester is required to graduate from a university in four years, and the report bemoans calling 12 credits per semester "full time," as is often the case in Texas, and requiring only nine credits to remain eligible for the state's main grant program, 

It also calls for more timely counseling of students to keep them on the prescribed path for their majors and avoid amassing unnecessary credits. On average, Texans graduate with 30 excess credits, the report claims.

While it lays out some sobering statistics, the report also gives kudos to leaders at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and elsewhere for  "Closing the Gaps" initiative, which aims to bring Texas' performance up to par with other large states by emphasizing college completion.

"While some may quibble with the speed of progress since [that initiative was launched], there's no question that Texas has persistently moved forward," the report says.

Here is the full "Complete College Texas" report:

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