EDITORIAL BOARD, AUSTIN AM-STATESMAN
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Simply put, this state's leadership is happily willing to allow higher education to slip into second- or even third-rate status.
Letting the flagships — the University of Texas and Texas A&M &mdash thrive with their endowments and tuition deregulation, but starving every other institution of higher learning, seems to be state policy. The prevailing attitude is to keep taxes among the lowest in the country — and damn the consequences.
This strategy is so short-sighted it is breathtaking. The consequences are right around the corner.
Low taxes are supposed to attract successful businesses, but eventually business and state leaders will realize that Texas' low level of educational attainment means a shortage of qualified workers. The level of education is universally connected to successful employment and a higher standard of living.
But that lesson is not getting through at the Governor's Mansion or the Capitol. The focus on primary and secondary education, which is vitally necessary, and low taxes is leaving higher education to fail. As an article by American-Statesman staff writers Ralph K.M. Haurwitz and Laura Heinauer pointed out Sunday, higher education is underfunded and falling behind.
Texas has a serious problem. The number of Texans who enroll in college and the percentage of them who graduate lag behind national averages. As Sunday's article noted, only 13 percent of entering high school freshmen ever earn an associate's or bachelor's degree. That compares to the national average of 18 percent.
Not yet five years into its "Closing the Gaps" plan to add half a million more students to the state's colleges by 2015, the numbers are already falling behind projections, even with the population booming. Most educators know the long-term effect of having an undereducated population is more unemployment and higher poverty rates.
The obvious answer is for the state's leaders to bolster higher education now, not let it founder with too few resources. That's the only practical way for Texas to avoid more serious problems tomorrow. It is axiomatic that it will cost more to fix this problem later.
A successful higher education program doesn't begin the freshman year of college, or even in high school. One of the serious problems with this state's low college graduation rate is the large number of students who drop out or fail because they come to college unprepared.
Students will only succeed in college if they have a proper education from the first grade through the 12th. That's the first order of business.
But it's just as foolish to give them second -or third-rate educations once they are in college.