News Room

Making the Grade
February 11, 2010

The future of Texas depends on our greatest resource—namely Texans. If we educate Texans to compete for good jobs in the 21st Century, we win. If we don’t, we lose. So, are we winning?

The Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, created by a resolution sponsored by our office, recently released a report that bluntly states:

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,


"Making the Grade" The future of Texas depends on our greatest resource—namely Texans. If we educate Texans to compete for good jobs in the 21st Century, we win.  If we don’t, we lose. So, are we winning? The Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, created by a resolution sponsored by our office, recently released a report that bluntly states:             

Texas is not globally competitive.  The state faces a downward spiral in both quality of life and economic competitiveness if it fails to educate more of its growing population (both   young and adults) to higher levels of attainment, knowledge and skills.  The rate at which educational capital is currently being developed is woefully inadequate. 

In other words, Texas is not winning, our greatest resource is becoming less educated and failed leadership in tackling the most serious challenges surrounding Texas higher education will place our state at a global disadvantage for years to come.   

We all know the facts about the importance of higher education: Texans that earn a professional or graduate degree will earn around $3.9 million during their lifetime, whereas high school dropouts will only make around $1 million.  Since we operate in a knowledge-based economy, what you earn depends on what you learn. 

While this is certainly true across the entire state, nowhere is it more important—and nowhere more do policymakers and state leaders need to focus their attention—than the growing population of Hispanics in Texas.  Hispanic cohort.   

In July, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency responsible for oversight and coordination of Texas' institutions of higher education, released a report showing that Hispanic enrollment at colleges and universities in Texas would need to almost double by 2015 to meet the state's higher education goals.  Devised to ensure "the future well-being of the state," the Coordinating Board outlined in 2000 the goals of Texas higher education in a report titled "Closing the Gaps." The July update, however, shows that an additional 310,000 Hispanic students would need to enroll to reach the 2015 goal, calling that "a daunting task given their high dropout rates in high school and economic disadvantages." 

While figures statewide are certainly concerning and must be rectified, UTEP and other border universities are successful at recruiting and enrolling Hispanic students.  They do fall short, however, of ensuring that they cross the stage to receive their diploma within a reasonable amount of time after enrolling.  See the chart below for an overview of four-year graduation rates: 

Four-Year Graduation Rates atSelected Universities, 2003 Cohort

UniversityGraduation Rate
UT-San Antonio7.4%
UT-El Paso4.5%
UT-Pan American13.2%

Source: UT System 

Two major reasons that students do not graduate on time are lack of money, and lack of preparation coming out of high school. As with high school dropouts, college dropouts represent a cost to taxpayers as well as to future economic success. Based on our calculations, the amount of annual state appropriations per 4-year graduate amongst first-time, full-time, degree-seeking undergraduates for the 1999 cohort was $928,287 for UTEP.   This compares to $380,871 for UT-Dallas and $118,848 for UT-Austin.  Please see the chart below for an explanation of these figures. 


Click here to view larger image.

While some institutions of higher education may complain about graduate students not being included in the previous chart, we believe it is a fair assessment of how state dollars are spent, especially when compared across institutions.   

So what can universities do to help Texas students—and especially Hispanics—graduate on time and move into our state's workforce?  Interestingly enough, they could turn to Oregon for ideas.  Specifically, Western Oregon University. 

Oregon too has experienced a rapid growth in the number of its Hispanic students, increasing from 8.7 percent of the K-12 population in 1998 to 17.2 percent in 2008.  Western Oregon has embraced this growth, as their Hispanic enrollment has gone up about 73 percent since 2004.  In addition to increased outreach to Latino families, the school has worked to introduce students to the college experience by hosting more students on campus.  Western Oregon also brings 1,500 Hispanic students to campus during a yearly leadership conference, the Cesar Chavez Leadership Institute, and 500 students to a day-long event called "Making College Happen."  Further, the school has attempted to bring down the cost of higher education by guaranteeing the same tuition price for four years and expanding financial aid. 

Much closer to home than Oregon, at UTEP, students wrote their own plan for college success. After hearing repeated concerns from UTEP students, we worked with them in a collaborative effort and created the UTEP 2015 Plan.  Written by a group of UTEP students, the development process included surveying and interviewing students about dual credits out of high school, high school counseling, mentoring while at college, program curriculum, professors, class availability and how best to finance a college education when tuition costs had risen 72% after tuition de—regulation. The UTEP student plan helped guide our higher education legislative agenda during the 80th and 81st Legislative Sessions.  Highlights include: 

  • Promoting Dual Credit Courses in Grades 9-12.  Our office amended language in SB 282 (80th Regular Session) requiring that a counselor at a public high school provide information upon a student's enrollment about the importance of higher education, opportunities for future financial aid, and the availability of programs in the district under which a student may earn college credit such advanced placement classes and dual credit programs.  Student participation in dual credit has been steadily rising since record-keeping began in 1999. The number of students participating in fall 2007 was 64,910, a 545 percent increase since fall 1999.  It is our goal to continue to grow these numbers over the coming years, resulting in savings to both students and the state.
  • Creating Online Graduation and Finance Plans and Guaranteeing No Tuition Hikes in Return for Graduation on Time.  We filed the concept this session as SB 195 (81st Regular Session), which would allow a student online access to their financial aid and academic information. SB 195 would require that institutions of higher education provide a method by which students can see their current courses, audit their degree progress, and monitor their financial aid status. 
  • Fighting to Fully Fund TEXAS Grants.  Created in 1999, the TEXAS Grants program provides tuition and fees to students who have excelled academically and have taken the advance and recommended curriculum in high school.  Unfortunately, funding has not been able to keep up with the demand, resulting in many students unable to afford the increasing cost of higher education.  As a result, we are examining different methods to increase funding for this essential program.  At current funding levels, only 36 percent of eligible new students will receive a grant. Texas Grants no longer makes the grade given tuition increases up to 72% at UTEP.
  • Creating Work-Study Programs for 25 Percent of UT System Students.  Our office filed SB 668 (81st Regular Session), which would provide funding for a student mentorship pilot program at five institutions of higher education. The program entails that senior students would be trained and then paid to mentor incoming students. This pilot program would allow seniors to finance part of their education while informing incoming students about financial and academic opportunities available to them.
  • Capping Tuition for On Time Graduation.  Tuition rates increase tremendously each year, and El Paso students have had trouble keeping up with expenses. As a result, we filed SB 667 (81st Regular Session), which would cap a student's tuition fee at the rate it was when he or she first entered the institution, provided that the student meets certain grade point average and other academic minimums.
  • Keeping Predatory Lenders Off Campus.  Credit card companies market on college campuses across the nation and many students, including students from El Paso, have fallen victim to predatory credit lending practices. We filed SB 676 (81st Regular Session), which would make credit card companies more accountable in their marketing strategies and would also require institutions of higher education to provide financial and debt education to incoming students.
  • Providing Nontraditional Hours for Nontraditional Students.  UTEP and other institutions that primarily serve nontraditional students must open their doors and schedule classes during nontraditional hours.  Providing students with the option to attend class during the evening and on weekends will allow them to take more hours and thus graduate more quickly.  This is an essential step to increase incredibly low graduation rates.
With these ideas, UTEP students are ‘making the grade’ and leading the way to a better education and better graduation rates all across Texas. 


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