FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 29, 2007
Texas faces a looming crisis: while our diverse, high-tech economy relies on a highly skilled, highly educated workforce, we rank near the bottom in the nation at producing college graduates. We lag particularly behind in graduating Hispanics and African Americans
As Texas becomes a more heavily minority-majority state, the future literally depends on increasing college access and success for Hispanic and African American Texans.
Unfortunately, all our efforts to close the gaps in college participation continue to fall far short of what is necessary and, unless the state significantly increases investment in direct grant aid, more and more students and families will be priced out of a college education, further jeopardizing our social and economic future.
So what is Texas doing about this challenge? Sadly, not nearly enough.
In 1999, Texas leaders promised high school students that if they worked hard and followed the rules, we would help them pay to go to college. Senator Rodney Ellis(Houston) and I co-authored legislation to create the TEXAS Grants program, which provides tuition and fees to students who have taken the Advanced or Recommended curriculum in high school. By every account, this program has been a runaway success.
Since we created the program, 161,000 students have received a TEXAS Grant to help them achieve the dream of college. The program has been the key to increasing minority college participation to meet the goals of the Closing the Gaps initiative.
No area has benefited more from this program than the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In just the last four years, 26,423 students have received $67.6 million to help them pay for college. Unfortunately, that success will be destroyed unless the Legislature takes dramatic steps today.
Frozen funding and skyrocketing tuition costs, thanks to tuition deregulation, have forced over 70,000 students to lose their TEXAS Grants in just the last two years and, if nothing is done today, the number of students left behind will soon explode. If funding is not dramatically increased, 150,000 students -- 75 percent of those eligible -- will be left behind every year, making TEXAS Grants an empty, broken promise.
Texas already compares poorly to other states -- our competitors for new jobs -- in producing college graduates. The numbers speak for themselves:
- Texas ranks 41st in the nation in the rate of college enrollment;
- Texas ranks 34th in the percentage with a bachelor's degree or higher;
- Only 26 percent of Texans aged 25-65 have earned a bachelor's degree or higher;
- Only 13 percent of Hispanic Texans have earned an Associate's Degree or higher;
- Texas spends, on average, $180 million less on direct grant aid than the other five largest states, California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania;
Unless we significantly increase direct grant aid to students, our state will fall further behind our competitors in producing the graduates needed to fuel the 21st century economy.
To address this looming crisis, we have filed legislation to put our money where our mouth is and fulfill the state's promise to Texas students and their parents. Our plan, SB 1176, would dedicate $897 million to the TEXAS Grant program, and ensure that every eligible Texas student has a chance to go to college.
This is simply a matter of priorities. We have a $14 billion budget surplus, so the money is there to keep our promise. If Texas is serious about Closing the Gaps and ensuring the doors to college are open to every student who wants an education, we will make this down-payment on our children's future.
(Senator Eddie Lucio represents South Texas in the Texas Senate. Senator Rodney Ellis represents Houston in the Texas Senate.) As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.