Texas Higher Education Board praises universities’ progress

Diego Cruz

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is expected to release an annual report today saying Texas universities have improved their standing among peer states since 2000 but continue to face challenges.

The state agency launched the “Closing the Gaps” initiative as a blueprint for state institutions of higher education with the goal of making Texas competitive with other states by 2015, said board spokesman Dominic Chavez.

The plan’s four critical goals are to increase enrollment, raise graduating rates, improve schools’ reputations and increase federal research, Chavez said.

“If we’re going to build a stronger economy for decades to come, then we need a more educated workforce,” he said.

After the plan launched in 2000, enrollment at public universities has increased by 486,000 students — nearing the goal of 630,000 students, according to a preliminary summary of the progress report. The number of degrees and certificates awarded annually increased by 176,000. The 2015 target increase is 210,000.

“Today, Texas is on a strong trajectory to meet its goals by 2015,” the report said. “However, challenges persist, particularly among Hispanics and African-Americans.”

While statewide goals of enrollment and certifications were met, a more specific look indicates not as many Hispanics are enrolling and fewer African-American males and Hispanics are graduating than expected, according to the report.

The state needs to step up its efforts to improve public higher education to the point of reinventing it, said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes in a conference call Tuesday according to The Texas Tribune.

Paredes said the coordinating board was considering a new plan for the initiative that would ensure Texas will be a leader in higher education by being cost efficient, innovative and offering lower-cost university degrees.