Carlos Guerra | San Antonio News
August 4, 2009
By the late 1990s, Texas was plainly falling behind other states in higher education, which economists had long warned would erode our competitiveness.
So in fall 2000 a plan was unveiled to try to stave off an economic decline by improving our universities, some of which, over the years, had not adequately furthered their excellence or kept pace with research.
But Texas' greatest needs were human. Research is a potent economic driver. A well-educated work force is indispensable in today's world. We can't build a sustainable economy if we're all delivering pizzas to each other.
Too few Texans were going to college and earning degrees. And exacerbating it all were the gaps among the state's racial and ethnic groups. Blacks enrolled and graduated at rates lower than Anglos, but it was the abysmal rates for Latinos — Texas' fastest-growing group — that are the worst economic threat.
When the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board unveiled “Closing the Gaps by 2015,” many were relieved. It was an ambitious plan to increase college enrollment and graduation rates while upgrading university excellence and research.
Easily the most notable goal was to have 5.7 percent of every racial and ethnic group enroll in college by 2015, which would grow enrollment, overall, by 630,000 to 1.6 million.
By 2004, some successes were already being reported, such as in attracting more research money. But in enrollment and graduation rates, progress was spotty. Higher overall enrollment and in the number of associate degrees awarded both exceeded the goals set for 2005. But that was only because Anglo and black advances in both exceeded their goals.
Latino enrollment and success rates remained far below the goals in the 2004 and subsequent progress reports.
In the 2009 progress report released Thursday, good news is reported overall, and for all three groups. But it also includes a sobering warning about the shortcomings of a 15-year goals program more than half over.
“Statewide enrollment has increased every year since 2000 ... and 2008 saw the largest percentage increase since 2002,” it noted. “And in 2000, the African American participation rate was 4.6 percent ... compared to 5.1 percent for whites. By 2008, the African American participation grew to 5.6 percent while the participation rate for whites only increased to 5.5 percent.”
There was even good news touted about “Hispanics (that) had the largest numeric and percentage increases from 2000 to 2008.” But it came with a caveat: “With a participation rate of just 4 percent, Hispanic enrollment lags the most in meeting ... participation targets.”
High dropout rates are a culprit. But so too are poverty, poor health care and nutrition, all of which limit academic achievement.
The 2009 report's most startling conclusion, however, is about all groups: “In the first eight years of Closing the Gaps ..., statewide participation increased by 280,000 students, (which) leaves just seven years to close 56 percent — or 350,000 — of the 630,000 student gap in enrollment by 2015.”
We best get on the ball.