One can only admire the new goals of higher education policy makers and advocates to have 60 percent of Texans between the ages of 25 and 34 hold a master’s, bachelor’s, or associate degree, or certificate and have 550,000 Texans attain one of these credentials each year in and after 2030. To achieve these goals, the plan creates sub-goals of 376,000 credentials by 2020 and 455,000 by 2025.
The case for these goals is unassailable. The benefits to the Texas economy and to all Texans who become proficient in these ways are, quite simply, huge, and their value is described powerfully in the documents that accompany the announcement and promotion of these goals.
But, plain and simple, it’s not enough to dream.
The advocates of these goals rightly point to changes in higher education that could help generate better results. Accountability and more effective practices could make a difference.
But the absolute blindness in the case to recent developments in k-12 education makes the dream an unattainable, if not false, one.
Let me start by examining data that show a serious slowdown in recent years in postsecondary completion. This trend of stagnation and flattening after a period of better gains makes the attainment of even modest goals unrealistic. This obviously is even more so for the dramatic bold new goals.
According to data produced by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), we had 246,500 bachelor’s and associate degrees and certificates (BACs) in 2014. The bad news is that this number has barely budged since 2012.
As to Hispanics, the new plan calls for 138,000 credentials by 2020, 198,000 by 2025, and 285,000 by 2030. Yet, we had only 79,700 BACs for Hispanics in 2014. The bad news is that this number has only grown at the pace of 3,000 a year since 2012. And the even worse news is that this pace of growth has slowed dramatically from 2006 to 2012, when it was almost 9,000 a year.
As to African Americans, the pace in growth of BACs has been only 550 a year from 2012-2014. This is a decline in growth from roughly 3,200 a year from 2006-2012.
Compounding the bad data, participation in higher education, according to THECB data, has been flat since 2012. And, as I have discussed in other essays, the traditional measures of college readiness, the SAT and ACT, show seriously declining readiness over the past few years, as against relative stability over the previous decade.
The Problem That Will Be Fatal to the Goals
The weakening of accountability in k-12 education in the mid-late 2000s couldn’t have helped the postsecondary completion results between 2012-2014. In fact, a good case could be made for the hypothesis that this very weakening which preceded stagnation in NAEP results after 2007-2009 also contributed to the stagnation in postsecondary completion from 2012-2014.
Yet, what will almost certainly doom efforts to meet these new, bold completion goals is the utter evisceration of the postsecondary readiness strategies the state built in the 2000s. Not only did the legislature eliminate virtually all these strategies, it actually lowered the bar in many ways from the standards and expectations in place in the 1990s.
I discuss this retrenchment in many places, including in this recent blog: http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/seduction-by-deception-how-texas-school-districts-played-both-the-legislature-and-the-supreme-court-to-get-what-they-want.
The bottom line: achieving dramatically better results at the end of the pipeline (postsecondary completion) requires dramatically better results at the front of the pipeline (postsecondary readiness upon high school graduation).
The failure of the new plans to insist upon a restoration of the challenging postsecondary readiness strategies (or their equal in rigor) likely dooms their efforts right from the start.
It’s not enough to dream. Indeed setting goals that cannot be reached because of inattention to key steps required to meet the goals makes for false dreams.
Texas must meet the goals, and advocates for the goals must show the courage and strength to do what it takes to be successful. For the sake of our kids and our future, let’s hope they do.