Texas higher education commissioner reveals plans for 60x30TX goals

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of John Jordan | Daily Texan Staff

Texas is falling behind on its education goal, known as 60x30TX, which aims for 60% of the Texas population to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030, said the Texas higher education commissioner in a conversation with the Texas Tribune on Monday.

The 2019 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board progress report to the legislature indicated that less than half of Texans have a postsecondary degree from a college or technical school. There was a 1.2% increase in graduates from 2017 for 43.5% of Texans to graduate in 2019. Commissioner Harrison Keller said the 60% goal will not be met by 2030 at this rate, and progress has slowed in higher education institutions.

“If we keep making the same kind of incremental progress we are making, we are not going to hit it,” Keller said in the talk. 

Keller said although the completion rates should be concerning, it is not an entirely accurate metric for success.

“I am more interested in credential production than graduation rates because there are a lot of folks that are left out of traditional calculations of graduation rates,” Keller said. “Some of our institutions, two-thirds of their students aren’t included in their graduation rate calculations because they have so many part-time students.”

Keller said to help institutions meet these goals, he wants to restructure the role of the board. Currently, the board must approve all degree programs and core curriculum courses. He said he wants to allow higher education institutions more freedom in deciding the core curricula and degree plans.

“We are going to reposition the coordinating board from a more traditional, regulatory posture to be more of a resource,” Keller said. “I envision a different role for the coordinating board, particularly around our educational and workforce data for the state.”

He said the coordinating board will instead evaluate the educational data and set goals and strategies for the state.

“We need to encourage and support more local innovation,” Keller said. “(The board has) zero students, zero faculty. We award zero degrees. If we are going to get anything done, it is going to be through partnering with the institutions.”

Considering Texas has the 10th largest economy in the world, Keller said educational systems need to meet the demands for the technically skilled workforce of the growing Texas economy. Keller proposed the coordinating board focus on increasing technical and vocational certificates. 

“We want to understand what is driving the variants around earnings and feeding the information back into how curricula are put together,” Keller said. 

Keller said he aims to address affordability among low-income students, middle class students outside of the income range for aid and older students returning to higher education to complete their degrees. 

Gary Susswein, UT-Austin’s chief communications officer, and Jay Dyer, deputy to the president for government relations, have worked with Keller for several years and attended the event. Susswien said UT-Austin is working internally to promote accessibility and affordability in education.

“This is an important part of the 60x30 goals, ensuring more Texans have access to full bachelor’s degrees that prepare them for the workforce,” Susswein said. “We really do feel like we create a more vibrant Texas and are a drive in the strong economy.”