Community colleges and universities must turn out more graduates, Texas panel says

Austin Texas — Colleges and universities will have to turn out thousands more graduates for Texas to remain economically competitive, according to a ground-breaking report by a coalition of higher education institutions from across the state.

The report by the Higher Education Coalition, entitled “The Competitive Edge,” also says that schools will need about $750 million dollars to improve their graduation rate and to develop retention programs and other measures to attract more students.

Members of the coalition say they plan to ask the Texas legislature for the money when lawmakers convene here for their next session in January.

“This is the first time in Texas that all the higher education groups have come together and agreed in a joint proposal that this is what we need,” says Dr. J. William Weinrich, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District.

Weinrich, who also serves as president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said the state’s fifty community college districts, which have about 400,000 students, would split about $200 million of the money for which the coalition is asking.

At stake, Weinrich and other coalition members say, is nothing less than the state’s future.

Texas colleges and universities handed out about 66,000 bachelor’s degrees to students in 1993 — the latest year for which figures are available. But the coalition says they will need to increase that to 81,000 by 2003 The panel has suggested increasing the number of transfer students from community colleges to four-year institutions by 15,000 a year could help the state reach that goal.

If Texas does not reach that goal — and does not continue to increase those numbers beyond 2003 — the report warns that the Lone Star State’s tax base could crumble and leave it in economic ruins and without an educated workforce.

“This state has a very diverse and pluralistic society,” says Weinrich. “But the young folks here who aren’t educated are going to be a real liability. We have a chance to turn them into one of the state’s greatest assets. Basically we have a choice of where we are going to put our money — into education or into welfare and prisons.”

Texas state Comptroller John Sharp has praised the report, saying Texas for too long has paid attention to every natural resource –cattle, cotton, oil, real estate — except its growing and increasingly diverse population.

The coalition also included representatives from the state’s other higher education institutions — the University of Texas. Texas A&M, the Texas Stale University, the University of Houston system, Texas Tech University, and the University of North Texas.

Here’s how the panel wants the money to be spent:

* $200 million to community colleges for equipment, recruitment, salaries, instruction and boosting student transfers to four-year institutions. Some of the money also would be used to step up the colleges ties to high schools and encourage students to continue their education.

* $530.9 million for development of retention programs and improving graduation rates at the state’s four-year colleges and universities. Panel members want to increase the freshman retention rate by about 20 percent.

* $50 million for financial aid — mostly grants, scholarships and work-study programs.

* $100 million for research and development to help meet the needs of Texas industries

The report takes its cues from recent demographic studies showing that the state’s historically disadvantaged groups — African Americans and Hispanics — have the fastest growing population. A recent Texas A&M study reveals that over the next twelve years, Blacks and Hispanics likely will comprise the majority of the state’s population.

Stanton Calvert, chief of legislative affairs for the Texas A&M University system, says that a majority of potential college students will come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, creating the need for more childhood enrichment and remedial reading courses. He also says that will mean a greater need for bilingual training and student financial aid.

“This whole program is predicated on the fact that the state of Texas cannot afford to continue with business as usual,” Calvert says.

Bill Ratliff, the Texas Senate Finance Committee Chairman, says he hasn’t seen details of the proposal but that he has talked with the chancellors of several institutions and supports efforts to make education in Texas a more seamless process between public schools and universities.

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