HIGHER EDUCATION COORDINATING BOARD GIVES PROGRESS REPORT ON CLOSING THE GAPS PROGRAM
The Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education today heard testimony regarding the state's progress in increasing participation, completion rates and excellence in Texas' higher education system. The Texas Higher Education Plan, known as Closing the Gaps, adopted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) in October of 2000, calls for the state to add 500,000 students at public and private universities and community colleges by 2015. Officials from THECB testified that while the state has made progress in reaching these goals, Texas still has a long way to go.
During the first four years of Closing the Gaps, Texas colleges and universities saw the largest student growth in state history, said THECB Associate Commissioner for Academic Research and Excellence David Gardner. The state has added about 190,000 upper level institution students since 2000, with the largest portion of that growth concentrated at community colleges.
Part of the Higher Education Plan sets certain goals with respect to the number of minority students participating in higher education in Texas. While the state exceeded the expected standards for Anglo and African-American students, Texas missed its expected goal of Hispanic students by 20,000.
The enrollment rate at Texas colleges or universities for high-school graduates has remained steady at 44 percent, but population growth in the past five years means that overall student enrollment is up. THECB officials project that 85 percent of enrollment growth in the next 10 years will come from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, south Texas, and the Gulf Coast region.
College completion is up 50 percent since 2000, said Gardner. Most of that completion increase is attributed to more associates degrees for students completing community college programs. The state missed its target for an increase in the number of bachelor's degrees by 14,000.
THECB Deputy Commissioner Teri Flack identified several challenges the state faces in meeting its 2015 goals. While education reforms in the 2006 special session better aligned high school and college curricula, Flack said the state must look to younger students, as far back as kindergarten and Pre-K, in order to improve higher education participation. She added that the state should look to aligning curriculum between community colleges and 4-year universities to improve the success rate of students who move from 2-year to 4-year institutions. Flack also testified that the state should increase funding for financial aid and for capital improvements to colleges and universities.
The sub-committee also considered the implementation and success of distance learning programs in the state. These programs use modern technology, such as video and DVD courses, teleconferencing and on-line courses to bring higher education to students restricted by location or time.
Several institutions in Texas have begun distance learning courses, with positive results. Ray Garcia, President of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, testified about the Virtual College of Texas, an organization of community colleges across the state that have pooled resources to offer distance learning courses. The program focused on high-demand or core-level courses, and enrolled 9,000 students in 2005. Student surveys indicate a high level of satisfaction with the Virtual College Courses. Most of the state universities are expanding distance learning programs in order to offer better opportunities to non-traditional students.