In 2015, the state of Texas launched an ambitious plan to have 60% of its young adult population graduate with a higher education degree or two-year certificate by 2030.
But lawmakers couldn’t predict that the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the abilities of many students to attend college. Harrison Keller, Texas’ commissioner for higher education, announced earlier this month that the initiative, called the 60 × 30 plan, would be updated with a new plan known as the “Building a Talent Strong Texas ”, which would expand its current goals. and add new ones.
“(The coronavirus) has been the biggest disruption our colleges and universities have experienced since the end of World War II,” Keller said in an interview with El Paso Matters.
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 2021 progress report, 45% of the target population aged 25-34 had a degree or certificate in 2019. Although this is an increase of 1.7% compared to 2018, almost 3% increase was needed to reach the planned target of 48% by 2020.
Keller said the pandemic has had the biggest impact on community college enrollment, dropping 11% statewide since 2019.
“Historically, when unemployment increases, community college enrollments also increase. If you look at the Great Recession, unemployment has gone up and enrollments have gone up because people need retraining and upgrading in order to be able to re-enter the workforce, ”Keller said. “But this was a public health crisis like we haven’t seen in a century, so it really looks more like a natural disaster than a recession. Unemployment was on the rise, but enrollment in our community colleges fell rapidly. “
El Paso Community College has seen a 6% drop this fall semester after dropping 10% the previous fall.
State Senator César Blanco, D-El Paso, a member of the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee, said additional state funding to support higher education institutions during this pandemic has been of great help in providing resources to schools.
“The Higher Education Coordinating Council is providing the state with funding formula recommendations to meet the 60 by 30 plan. SB 1 provided $ 8 billion to fund formulas at our higher education institutions and these formula funding increases, I think, are necessary for these institutions to be able to provide affordable and quality degrees and diplomas, ”Blanco said.
Under the updated plan, the target population will now include 35-64 year olds rather than 25-34 year olds. Keller said the pandemic has shown the board of directors that older people need to learn new skills and enter higher education institutions.
“We want to maintain a goal of academic success for our young workforce, but we will also add a goal for our older Texans, as we have hundreds of thousands of people who need to hone and re-size to re-enter the world. labor market. market to advance in their careers, ”Keller said.
The plan will also recognize non-traditional education credits, including certificates obtained through online courses from Google, LinkedIn and other web platforms.
“We will include more short-term and employer-recognized degrees in the degrees that we count towards our state higher education goals,” Keller said. “But the main marker that we are setting is that all of these elements must be valuable references, therefore references that translate into better income for students and families. “
Leila Melendez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Borderplex, said expanding educational attainment outside of associate or bachelor’s degrees would show a more inclusive view of the state’s educated population.
“CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) is a popular international IT training and certification program and we have taken these courses to many people. Based on how many people I have, I would say between 100 and 150 people over the past four years have obtained CompTIA credentials through us, but they are not on the 60 of 30 report. ”Said Melendez.
The updated plan will have a more flexible approach to student debt versus salary in the first year after graduation. As part of the initial plan, the board said student debt should not exceed 60% of the first year’s salary.
Keller said that this was not an intuitive approach and that students will now learn more financial literacy skills in high school so that they can know what salary they will typically receive with the career they have chosen and how that relates to the debts they may accumulate.
“With the work, we will be setting up new resources for students, families and for their guidance and career counselors. So that’s something people need to think about and talk about before they even enroll (in higher education institutions), ”he said.
Keller said this will give students a realistic understanding of what to expect from their given careers.
“If you’re a psychology student versus a psychology student who also has a certificate in data analysis, you might have a very different range of job opportunities where you might have a starting salary of $ 69,000. for $ 39,000. It is important that students can have this information so that they can make their own choices about what is best for them, ”he said.
Research and the role of research universities will be another addition to the revamped plan. As the world’s ninth largest economy, Keller said, the state must continue to expand its research and development infrastructure.
“For Texas to remain competitive, we will need to invest in research and development infrastructure. Much will be around our main research institutions, our health science centers, our main research universities and emerging research universities, ”he said.
The University of Texas at El Paso will continue to play a role in this development, Keller said.
Keller said those new goals will be adopted next month and that new dashboards will be made available to the public in the spring or next summer. Dashboards will include data breakdowns by race, ethnicity and gender in order to track populations of specific groups.
“We need to look beyond our traditional assumptions and our traditional models of higher education delivery to engage talented students much earlier in the pipeline,” Keller said. “We need to recognize and develop our higher education system on the premise that people are going to have to resize and improve their skills many times in their lifetimes. “
Cover photo: El Paso Community College graduates enter the Don Haskins Center on December 10 for early winter exercises. (Photo courtesy of El Paso Community College)