Texas higher education commissioner promises statewide improvements

Graysen Golter

Higher education commissioner Harrison Keller used his first State of Higher Education Address Thursday to highlight higher education shortcomings and how institutions can improve.

“Today, the state of Texas higher education is uneven but with tremendous potential,” Keller said. “Although we face serious challenges — and in truth, what we’re seeing in the data isn't where we want to be — we know there are many examples of Texas institutions that have been making great progress.”

Less than two months after replacing former commissioner Raymund Paredes, Keller said it is more important than ever to pursue secondary education for a future career. He cited a Georgetown University study that found that 99% of job growth since 2016 went to workers with at least some higher education. 

Keller also cited a United States Census study that found that unemployment among people with only high school diplomas was more than 80% higher than those with bachelor’s degrees.

Keller said most Americans and Texans believe postsecondary education is important, but studies show that many people without college degrees are concerned about going into student debt without the means to pay it off.

“Our response must be an even greater commitment to our public mission,” Keller said. “Today, students, families, employers, and policymakers are asking pointed questions about cost and value. The intensity of this criticism is not going away. It will more than likely increase, especially given the ways higher education issues are being framed in national debates and political campaigns.”

In 2015, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board made 60x30xTX, a group of state leaders with the goal to have 60% of Texas’s young population have postsecondary credentials by 2030. 

Keller said some strides have been made toward this goal, but data from the group’s July report indicates progress has slowed in the last year toward making sure Texans have marketable skills and are able to complete degrees, especially for underrepresented groups such as Hispanics and African Americans.

“We need to work together across institutional boundaries so all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income can fully participate in, benefit from and contribute to the future of Texas,” Keller said. “To keep Texas competitive, we can’t just make incremental progress. We have to work with urgency, much faster than higher education institutions and the agency have historically operated.”

Keller said he promises to coordinate more closely with higher education institutions in the coming months and provide more useful and accessible data to improve in lacking areas, such as federal research obligations to Texas institutions and venture capital.

“The State of Texas has adopted an ambitious goal to educate more people to higher standards than ever before,” Keller said. “As we work on this goal, we have to keep today’s students in mind. I can’t promise I will always make you happy, but I can promise I will always listen and be open to other ideas.”