AUSTIN — About one in five top-performing high schoolers forego further educational opportunities, according to state data.
Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller testified before the House Committee on Higher Education Thursday, saying the state was not on track to reach its goal of having 60% of young working adults — ages 25 to 34 — accredited with a college degree or certificate by 2030.
Keller said the state is currently at 45% with direct high school-to-college declining statewide.
“Our colleges and universities have come through the greatest disruption to their operations we’ve experienced since the second world war,” he said. “They had a simultaneous collapse of multiple revenue streams, increased costs for mitigation, testing, and, of course, the need to put almost all their courses online in a space of about two weeks.”
But Keller said the trends were not looking favorable even before the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to 2020, about 17% of high school students who graduated in the top 10% of their class were not enrolled in any Texas or out-of-state institution. In Texas, those who graduate at the top of their class receive automatic acceptance to state public universities.
The percentage was higher for historically marginalized communities, where about 17.7% of Black students who qualified for automatic admission did not enroll in Texas or out-of-state institutions. For Hispanic students, the number was also 17.7%.
Keller said it is concerning because research shows that by 2030, more than 60% of jobs across Texas will require education and training beyond high school diplomas, “especially for good jobs.” He added that nearly all new jobs created in the state require some education and training beyond high school.
One barrier could be that students do not know how to navigate the system and do not have advisors who could help and encourage them — particularly if they would be a first-generation college student. Another is the rising costs of getting a degree. Some students do not want to take on debt and instead opt for the immediate infusion of cash that getting a job right after high school allows, Keller said.
“This is an issue that we are tackling head on,” Keller said. “We are working in partnership with the institutions for financial aid advising, mentoring (with) a focus on high achieving, especially high achieving low-income students.”