With an eye on keeping up with demographic changes and competing with other states and countries, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted a new overarching goal Thursday: Get 60 percent of Texans between 25 and 34 a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030.
That will be a difficult task — only 38 percent of Texans in that demographic currently have such a degree.
The benchmark was set in the coordinating board's 15-year strategic plan, which the board unanimously approved at its regular meeting Thursday. The plan, called 60x30TX, was written by a committee of business and higher education leaders, who expressed concerns that the state is falling behind other states and countries.
If Texas were its own country, it would rank fifth in the world in educational attainment among residents between 55 and 64 years old, committee members said. But it falls to 25th in the world for people between the ages of 25 and 34.
In addition, educational attainment is far lower among black and Hispanic students. And Texas has the highest percentage of black and Hispanic students in the country. Finding ways to help those students get into college — and pay for it — will be vital to the state's future, the agency said.
"It is an urgent matter for Texas to increase our knowledge and skills to sustain and become globally competitive," said Woody Hunt, chairman of the committee that wrote the plan. "To not do so has serious economic consequences for the state and our citizens."
To succeed, the state needs 550,000 students to earn a certificate, associate, bachelor's or master's degree in Texas in 2030. In 2014, about 256,000 people achieved that goal.
"Being incremental is not a solution," said Hunt, executive chairman of Hunt Companies.
Committee members said the goal is reachable. The state's current long-term plan, written in 2000, aimed to have 163,000 degrees awarded annually by 2015. The state achieved that in 2015.
But other aspects of the current plan, known as Closing the Gaps by 2015, have had mixed results. Its overarching goal was to raise success levels for Hispanics, blacks and other underrepresented groups in higher education. In 2014, participation in higher education by Hispanics rose, though at a slower rate than the benchmarks set by the coordinating board. Meanwhile, participation by blacks has stayed on target over the last 15 years, but dropped in 2013 and 2014, according to the coordinating board.
The plan approved Thursday urges more success with those demographics. But it's more of a statement of goals than a list of desired actions. Still, its authors said they are confident that state leaders can figure out a way to succeed.
"We have done our best to be realistically ambitious," said Larry Faulkner, vice chairman of the committee and former president of the University of Texas at Austin.
Disclosure: Woody Hunt is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.