Texas students lag behind others in preparing for college, higher education coordinator says

Caleb Wong

Texas students are not as college-ready as their peers in other states, the state’s higher education commissioner told the higher education and education committees Tuesday.

The commissioner, Raymund Paredes, raised concerns over low SAT scores, which are used in part to measure college-readiness in school districts. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, Texas ranks 45th among the 50 states in terms of SAT scores. 

“We’re close to the bottom of SAT scores, so that’s cause for alarm,” Paredes said. “Students have to be ready for college, and we can’t just send them there.” 

The committees met in joint session at the Capitol to discuss preparing high school students adequately for college in Texas. The meeting comes after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick directed the education committee to review the state’s mission to study the components of the state’s 60×30 higher education plan: dual credit, credit transfer from high school to college and fields of study. The plan aims for 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds to earn some sort of postsecondary credential by 2030.

“These charges are critical to assure that good Texas schools are available to every Texas child and that our academic institutions can educate and train the workforce Texas needs to continue to compete in the global marketplace,” Patrick said in a statement in October 2015.

According to recent data from the Texas Education Agency, only 54 percent of students were college-ready. Only 34 percent of students taking the SAT in Texas and 27 percent of ACT test-takers were deemed prepared for higher education. This represents a 20 percent improvement from 2007, when the state only found 37 percent of students college-ready.

Harrison Keller, professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and vice provost of higher education policy and research, said secondary schools need to be held accountable to reach the plan’s goal.

“The target is ambitious,” Keller said in a phone interview. “We need more dramatic redesigns, and we need a vast expansion of educational opportunities that are going to be available to make sure students are going to be prepared for college and be successful when they get there.” 

Paredes said while more students have been prepared for college, the state must “accelerate” its progress beyond the current rate of improvements to meet the state’s 60×30 higher education goal.

“We’ve been improving dramatically over the past 15 years, but we have a long ways to go,” Paredes said. 

Keller said incoming freshmen at UT come in with as much as a year of college credits. However, not all dual-credit courses transferred to UT prepare them adequately for the rigors of advanced coursework, he said. 

“The quality is uneven,” Keller said. “Some of the courses are great courses. Some of them are relabeled high school courses.”

The state needs to review dual credit programs and make sure they meet college-readiness standards, Paredes said to the committee. 

“Dual credit is not going to be a magical bullet,” Paredes said. “We have to make sure that whatever course the student takes, we have to make sure the student is indeed college-ready.”