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Higher Ed Enrollment Grows Slowly as Deadline Looms

Overall enrollment in Texas colleges and universities grew by about 8,000 students in 2013. That's an increase of less than 1 percent over 2012 figures.

UTEP students make their way through campus.

Overall enrollment in Texas colleges and universities grew by about 8,000 students in 2013, according to preliminary data released this week by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That's an increase of less than 1 percent over 2012 figures.

The state is down to the final years of a 15-year "Closing the Gaps" plan to bring its higher education performance up to par with other comparable states by 2015. The state has come a long way since 2000, adding about 596,000 students. But in order to meet the ultimate enrollment goal, about 34,000 more students will need to be added in the next two years — a growth rate significantly higher than the current one.

"We recognize Texas must redouble its efforts to provide pathways to postsecondary education," Harold Hahn, the coordinating board's recently installed chairman, said in a statement. "We look forward to working with public and higher education to implement targeted strategies to help the state meet its participation goals."

Public universities experienced an increase of less than 2 percent in the last year. The University of Texas at San Antonio's nearly 1,750-person drop was the largest in terms of total students. But Texas Southern University in Houston experienced the biggest percentage decrease in students — more than 10 percent. Texas A&M University added the most students — more than 3,100. And the University of Texas of the Permian Basin had the largest growth rate with a more than 28 percent rise in its population.

Enrollment in public community colleges experienced an overall decline, though it was a small one: less than 1 percent.  Private universities also saw a slight overall decrease.

Public technical colleges experienced the highest percentage growth overall in the past year. The Texas State Technical College System had a 5.5 percent bump systemwide. It's an interesting result in part because the system is in the process of implementing a new funding formula based entirely on outputs — specifically, the earnings of former students — rather than enrollment, which is what still drives state funding at public universities. The system's West Texas campus, which experienced a contraction in enrollment as it adjusted its strategy to better align with the new funding model, saw a more than 56 percent enrollment increase in the last year.

In a statement, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes noted that even the state's slow growth is outpacing national trends, which show slight declines in the country's total higher ed enrollment. But there are also troubling signals about the likelihood of hitting the 2015 goals. Statewide, Hispanic enrollment dropped by roughly 3,500 students.

"While we continue to outperform national averages, we are concerned about the decline in enrollment among Hispanic and white students," Paredes said. "We will take aggressive steps to work more closely with our institutions of higher education, public education partners and other stakeholders to change this pattern."

One program Paredes highlighted as part of the coordinating board's strategy is called Advise TX College Advising Corps, which places recent college graduates in schools to serve as college advisers to high school students.

Institutions will submit their final certified data to the coordinating board later this year.

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