Texas will have to do things dramatically differently if the state is to meet its higher education goals, Raymund Paredes the state commissioner said during his annual State of Higher Education address on Friday.
A 15-year plan called "Closing the Gaps," which was launched in 2000 to bring the state up to parity with other large states in terms of postsecondary productivity, is coming to an end, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is working on rolling out the next longterm plan.
Paredes said the state has come a long way over the last 13 years but still has a long way to go. That's where the new plan comes in.
According to outlines included in Paredes' presentation, the state's new higher education plan will focus on addressing workforce needs, aligning with the K-12 sector, increasing the value of higher education by reducing the time and money spent obtaining degrees and ensuring high quality.
While the coordinating board assembles the framework for the plan, Paredes encouraged university and community college administrators to begin considering changes that he said could help students graduate more quickly.
One suggestion included allowing students to advance once they have proven mastery of a concept rather than making them sit through a course of a certain length. He noted that the state's technical college system is already using this model for some certificates, and he said the coordinating board was closely monitoring its progress.
Paredes also called on institutions to narrow the choices for students, noting that curriculums had become overly complicated."Make it less confusing," he said. "And make sure that it is geared to help students succeed."
The commissioner also expressed concerns about studies that have shown that college students are not graduating with significantly improved critical thinking. He indicated that increased testing to measure student progress may be needed. "We have to be able to tell if students are learning," he said.
Highlighting Texas college rankings in Washington Monthly, which — as opposed to the traditional U.S. News & World Report rankings — evaluates institutions, in part, based on the social mobility they enable and the amount of service they encourage among their students, he said the time had come to consider new criteria for excellence in higher education.
"We have to move away from this overemphasis on research and look at the ways we serve the people, particularly as public institutions of higher education," he said.
Along similar lines, he also said it was necessary "to revise the tenure and promotion system," particularly at universities. As examples, he said, rather than a professor's total publications, their work benefitting the community or increased student retention and success rates should count toward tenure.
The comments met with applause, but Paredes acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead.
"We've done all the easy stuff," he said. More difficult issues will have to be tackled, he said, "if we're going to make any dramatic improvement from here on out."