Texas Needs To Improve College Prep

Turtle Pond And  College Of Natural Sciences

There are many family-sustainable jobs available in Texas, but not enough college-educated Texans to fill themIn the Lone Star State, that’s called “all hat and no cattle.”

Though Texas boasts the 14th largest economy in the world, only 32 percent of its 25-34 years olds have obtained an associate’s degree or higher.  That’s a full 10 percentage points behind the national average. When compared to globally competitive economies, the Lone Star State’s rate of educational attainment ranks 24th. To balance its demand-side heavy, supply-side weak employment structure, Texas can increase middle and high school rigor, to increase completion rates for higher education programs that prepare students for family-sustainable careers.  And it would be wise to do so soon.

According to the Center on Education and the Workforce, two out of every three jobs will require some form of higher education within the next five years.  If Texas cannot produce a higher percentage of its population able to fill this demand, businesses, including the state’s 52 Fortune 500 Companies, may begin to look elsewhere for future employees.  Preparing more students to succeed in, and ultimately complete, higher education can help ensure businesses continue relocating to – and not out of – Texas.

An analysis by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board of completion rates for students enrolled in a four-year Texas university beginning in 2008 found:

  • Only 38 percent of first-time college students who did not meet the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) standard in math successfully completed a college-level math course within three years.
  • 64.7 percent of first-time students who were underprepared in reading completed a college-level reading course within three years.
  • 60.1 percent of first-time students who were underprepared in writing completed a college-level writing course within three years.

The same analysis also found that a lack of preparation for higher education is especially detrimental to Texas’ minority populations.  While Texas should be proud that its African-American population has increased participation in higher education by 2.7 percent since 2000 – the highest of the state’s major racial/ethnic groups – the state must work to improve completion rates among its minority populations. The goal should not be just getting students to college; it should be preparing students to complete a higher education program that leads to a family-sustainable career.

Over a two-year period, persistence rates (staying in college) dropped 2 percentage points’ for Hispanics and 1.9 points for African-Americans attending a Texas university. This, in part, explains Texas’ major gaps in graduation rates with regards to demographics: 52.5 percent African American, 65.7 percent Hispanic, 76.1 percent white, and 84.3 percent Asian. If demographics are not to determine destiny, they must not impact college completion.

Texas should look beyond high school graduation and focus on implementing rigorous standards that equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to complete higher education programs that prepare them for a family sustainable career.  It is an “all hat and all cattle” approach to education that will benefit students, employers, tax-payers and the entire Lone Star State.

Texas is open for business.  Rigorous college preparedness that increases completion rates for higher education programs that prepare students for family-sustainable careers can keep it that way.

Follow Patrick Kobler on Twitter. This post ran first at the George W. Bush Institute. University of Texas image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.

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