Thursday, February 05, 2009

Paredes likes Perry's remarks about making college education affordable

Steve Taylor | Rio Grande Guardian
28 January 2009

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes spoke at a Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce reception on Tuesday evening.

AUSTIN, January 28 - Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund A. Paredes says he likes the emphasis Gov. Rick Perry placed on college affordability in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

“Although the economic circumstances are dire, as the governor indicated in his State of the State address, we should still invest in higher education,” Paredes said Tuesday evening.

Paredes made his remarks at a reception hosted by Direct Energy at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Austin. The reception was held in conjunction with a legislative dinner being hosted by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce.

“We are at a point now where most of the kids that are coming up through K thru 12 and are likely to go to college are Latino and they are poor,” Paredes told the audience. “Over 70 percent of the college age students that will be considering attending community colleges and universities over the next ten to 15 years will be Latino and they will be poor.”

Paredes added: “We cannot build the economy we want in Texas; we cannot sustain the economic progress we have made in Texas over the past ten years unless we support those kids.”

In his State of the State address, Perry proposed increased funding for the Texas Grant Program. He noted that the program, which has disbursed almost $1.5 billion in tuition and fees to over 161,000 students, had “opened the door” for traditionally underserved Texans.

“I like this approach because it not only knocks down a barrier between hard working students and the success they desire, it also keeps our college classrooms supplied with students who are motivated and prepared to succeed,” Perry said.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, author of the bill that set up the Texas Grant Program, has long complained that the program is being under-funded.

In his State of the State address, Perry also proposed freezing a student’s college tuition rates for four years at the level they pay as an entering freshman. “This will help Texas families plan while giving students another incentive to finish on time,” Perry said.

Paredes said he liked what he heard in the State of the State address.

“Higher education has to be among our highest priorities. Even in tough economic situations we have to invest in the higher education of our young people,” Paredes told the TAMACC audience. “The Coordinating Board has established as its highest priority increases in funding for financial aid programs for our universities and our community colleges.”

Paredes pointed out that 70 percent of Latino kids that go to university start off in community colleges. “So, we have to make sure that funding is available for students when they go to community colleges and to help them defer or pay for their expenses and help them finish a community college type education program or help them transfer to a university,” he said.

Paredes then made a heartfelt plea for TAMACC members and supporters to get behind legislative efforts to make college more accessible and affordable.

“We will have some tough discussions this session about how we allocate limited funds. I strongly urge all of you to support financial aid. The Governor said this morning that he would support substantial increases in financial aid for our youngsters in Texas. Please support higher levels of funding for the students. We cannot have a prosperous future in Texas unless we make that investment in all our needy students but particularly the large percentage that will be Latino students,” Paredes said.

Asked afterwards to elaborate on his thoughts about the state of higher education in Texas, Paredes told the Guardian how important community colleges are.

“It is very important that state leaders recognize that community colleges are the lynchpin of educational attainment in Texas. They serve as the most appropriate point of entry for students of all backgrounds, particularly poor students who don’t have the resources to attend university so we need to fund community colleges at higher levels,” Paredes said.

“Also, community colleges have done a wonderful job in Texas of holding down the costs and remaining accessible. I think they are at the breaking point. If we do not fund them at higher levels they are going to have to find resources somewhere and that likely will be in tuition and fees.”

Asked if he felt enough lawmakers and state leaders realize the importance of community colleges, Paredes said: “I do not know if people are as thoroughly informed as they need to be but I am noticing a shift. They are absolutely vital to the well being of Texas.”

Paredes also hammered home the point about investing in higher education even in tough economic times.

“Despite the fact that we live in a tough budgetary environment we still need to invest in the future of Texas and there is no more vital issue for the future of Texas than higher education. We need to improve educational attainment and make our young people competitive in a global economy,” Paredes said.

“When you consider the demographics of Texas, that 70 percent of the growth will be in the Latino community and most of the youngsters are poor we have to invest in them. We have to give them the resources they need to go to college.”

Paredes said that both the state and students have to live up to their commitments.

“We need to send a message to our young people that if we are going to invest money in you, you expect you to perform at high levels. There’s got to be accountability on both sides. The state needs to be accountable in investing in its young people and young people need to know that they have to work hard,” Paredes said.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board has achieved “dramatic improvements” in its Closing the Gaps goal, Paredes added. “College rates are going up, completion rates are going up. Among Latinos, we have seen a 50 percent increase in attendance and completion rates. We are making progress. We can go to the legislature and say, yes, we are asking for more money but we are getting better results with the money you provided us,” he said.

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