Free community college. That was a big idea laid down by the governor of Tennessee recently, and for the right reasons. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, leads a state with a mediocre college-going rate.
Improving those numbers would upgrade that state’s workforce and, therefore, its economy. Tennessee’s proposal is a dramatic gesture intended to spur action.
Texas has similar challenges that require dramatic measures. Despite steady gains in producing college graduates, we still occupy low and middling rungs nationally on educational attainment. The competition is stiff out there.
Here’s a sobering statistic: Of every 100 Texas eighth-graders from 2002 — those who recently entered the workforce — only 19 earned any kind of college degree or certificate. And here’s perspective: The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board says that two-thirds of U.S. jobs by 2020 will require some kind of postsecondary education.
The Texas trajectory does not befit a growth state that wants to remain a career destination.
The good news is that education and business leaders are now coalescing in new ways, trying to align student preparation better with the job market. It means breaking down the silos. That theme emerged in a sweeping public-education-reform bill adopted in Austin last year; the law now requires closer coordination among public schools, colleges and universities, and the Texas Workforce Commission.
Recently at Texas Instruments’ corporate headquarters in Dallas, a high-octane get-together illustrated the sense of urgency. Education commissioner Michael Williams, higher-education commissioner Raymund Paredes and Workforce Commission chairman Andres Alcantar met with a broad range of North Texas business and higher-education leaders.
Private industry’s message was clear: Good jobs are out there, and many require solid math and critical-thinking skills.
A separate meeting of business and education representatives took place in Collin County recently, also with a focus on clearing paths to promising career fields.
Some changes are in store as a result of higher expectations and the new law. High school students, for example, will prepare personal graduation plans drawing on information prepared by the public and higher education agencies and the Workforce Commission.
School districts will work with universities to develop college-prep math and English courses for students who fall behind.
Paredes wants to focus universities on getting students to complete what they started. The statewide graduation rate from state universities is below 50 percent after six years of study, a figure that represents a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.
Lawmakers should focus on more reforms to streamline the system, such as tying a portion of support to universities when their students complete courses, as opposed to the current method of paying for those who merely enroll.
There will be other big ideas ahead, and we hope that means multiplying the number of $10,000 four-year degrees by Texas universities, a recent innovation that’s as dramatic as anything that’s come out of Tennessee.
— The Dallas Morning News