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We get the college graduation rates we pay for

Just a couple of related items of interest. First, from the man who would be Governor if we lived in a just world.

In the last 30 years, Americans with only a high school diploma experienced a drop in average income from $36,600 to $30,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars, while incomes of those with a bachelor’s degree rose to $50,000. The unemployment rate for college graduates is less than half the rate of those with only a high school diploma and less than a third of those who never finished high school.

No state has more at stake in higher education than Texas, with 1 million unemployed and one-tenth of all young Americans in public schools. In the next decade, young Texans will account for almost 40 percent of our nation’s total growth in public school enrollment. Two years ago, business leaders on our state’s Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness reported: “Texas is not globally competitive. The state faces a downward spiral in quality of life and economic competitiveness if it fails to educate more of its growing population. … Unlike states with higher average incomes or growing economies throughout the world, in Texas, young workers, under 34, now have a smaller percentage of degrees than older workers.”

Public investment in university research also helps attract the grants and philanthropy needed to strengthen and expand the number of Texas’ Tier 1 research universities, which serve as magnets for new businesses and economic growth.

The state government invests about 70 cents a day per resident in support of higher education. Other business-oriented states have found a way to do more. North Carolina and Georgia, with a combined population far less than Texas, together invest substantially more than Texas each year in higher education. North Carolina has long used universities to spur high-wage job growth and in the last five years has increased its full-time college enrollment at a much faster rate than Texas.

And from the Texas Trib:

Nationally, 52 percent of Hispanic students and 58 percent of black students are unable to earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 40 percent of white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“What is increasingly evident now that wasn’t evident 10 or 20 years ago is the extent to which this is a national phenomenon,” said Steve Murdock, a sociology professor at Rice University and previously the state demographer of Texas and head of the U.S. Census Bureau. “This is not a Texas issue. It’s not a California issue. It’s a national issue.”

For the U.S. to maintain — let alone grow — a college-educated workforce, Murdock said, those numbers will have to change.


In 2007, recognizing the demographic shift — and its accompanying challenges — [the University of] Texas set up a Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. With an annual budget of $30.4 million, it encourages minority high school students to apply to college and then supports them with a complex framework of programs that include tutoring, personal advising.

“The question is, can we get them the support to help them over the gaps?” said Gregory Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement.

The results, so far, have been promising. Generally, students in the division’s programs have grade point averages and retention rates as good as or better than the average in their respective classes. “The good news is that our students come highly motivated, so our challenges aren’t as great as you’d expect, despite assumptions some people might make about their backgrounds,” said Aileen Bumphus, executive director of the Gateway Program, an initiative under the Diversity and Community Engagement umbrella that works with about 300 first-generation students in each class.

Such programs have been crucial for students like Oscar Ayala, a UT senior from Houston who majors in biomedical engineering. Both of his parents are from Mexico, and neither attended college. “When it came time in high school to get ready for college, I didn’t know what that meant,” Ayala said.

But that success may prove difficult to maintain, depending in large part on decisions the Texas Legislature will make this year to confront a budget shortfall that could reach $20 billion or more. About $5 million of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement budget comes from state funds. Educators are particularly worried about cuts to the state’s largest financial aid program, which primarily serves minority students.

Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American, an institution that is 89 percent Hispanic, said cuts to the aid program would be “devastating” to the area.

Just something to keep in mind when we start hearing about the inevitable cuts to higher education funding that the Republican Legislature is about to impose on us. The effect of these cuts will last a lot longer than the next fiscal period. But at least we’ll have a balanced budget, and Dan Patrick will keep his property taxes low.

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