SXSWedu launches with discussion on Texas higher education reform


Jorge Corona

UT Government Professor James Henson and Texas State Representative Dan Branch hold a panel on education in the state of Texas at the downtown Hilton hotel on Monday afternoon. The panel was part of SXSWedu.

Alexa Ura

State Senate and House educational leaders discussed technological education reform and reformatting college readiness testing during a policy forum on the first day of SXSWedu.

SXSWedu is a four-day event that hosts education panelists and speakers and is part of the annual SXSW Conference and Festival. In a series of panels focused on policy, State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, and Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, dissected the higher education issues to be discussed during the current legislative session.

Branch, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said the most pressing issues for higher education are testing accountability, fiscal restraints and technologically revolutionizing the college classroom.

“Higher education seems to be in this crucible,” Branch said. “We have this notion of fiscal restraint and therefore higher education is finding itself having to do as much with less.”

Branch and Allen strongly promoted incorporating technology in the classroom both at the K-12 and higher education levels to push students to graduate with a college degree — an initiative UT has implemented and made concrete partnerships to promote.

A year after the UT System Board of Regents voted to offer massive open online courses, UT-Austin will offer free online courses starting this fall through edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses.

In 2011, the System also invested $10 million in the MyEdu website to facilitate planning degrees and online advising in an effort to increase graduation rates.

Allen, a former educator and vice-chair of the public education committee, said all public schools should track students’ progress throughout their college careers to measure effectiveness and efficiency of investing in human capital that prepares students in technological fields in which they are interested.

“In the K-12 program, we cut allocations for technology and say ‘Don’t bring that laptop in here,’” Allen said. “We walk them into a classroom and say ‘Open that book and turn to page 22’ completely turning them off. We need to think 30 years out, not us sitting here today.”

Seliger and Allen also discussed the importance of reformatting public education testing to show progress and college readiness. Both politicians said they would be pushing for this during the session.

“We want K-12 to align very, very closely with higher education so for those young people who wish to access higher education will be prepared for where they end up,” Seliger said. “We get far more information about students from SAT testing reports than we do from the STAAR testing.”

Seliger, chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said the public education system lacked technical and STEM pathways.

“It doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all-students but one-size-serves-all-students,” Seliger said.

SXSW partnered with the Texas Tribune to produce the policy forum.

Printed on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 as: SXSWedu launches with policy panels