If Texas wants to remain one of the top states for business growth and job creation, then we must get serious about workforce development. We currently rank 40th in the nation with only 35 percent of adults attaining a postsecondary degree, compared to 41 percent nationally. And we trail every state except California in the percent of adults without a high school diploma or equivalent. This is why the state’s new strategic plan to ensure that 60 percent of Texans earn a postsecondary credential by 2030 is so important. It also shows us how far we have to go.
I recently testified before the Texas House of Representatives Higher Education Committee about the need for greater educational opportunities for non-traditional students. The first major workforce development challenge I raised is the low success rate of students in our community colleges, where the majority of higher education students are enrolled. Nearly half arrive unable to meet college-readiness standards, and only 27 percent leave with a postsecondary degree or certificate.
While the legislature faces an urgent need to invest in our k-12 schools and drastically improve college-readiness rates, Texas must also improve success rates at community colleges by rewarding those institutions doing the most to improve outcomes for students. Five years ago the legislature implemented a Success Points program that rewards colleges when their students achieve certain benchmarks up to and including graduating or transferring to a four-year university. However, last session the legislature cut funding per Success Point, effectively minimizing these incentives for institutions. This is taking us in the wrong direction. Next session the Success Points model should be fully funded to encourage colleges to continue to improve their student outcomes.
The second major workforce development challenge I raised is the nearly 3 million Texas adults without a high school diploma or GED. Compared to other states, Texas is significantly under-investing in our adult education system. We are also witnessing alarming declines in the number of adults passing the GED high school equivalency test.
We must make larger investments in successful outcomes-based programs – like Accelerate Texas, a joint initiative of the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board – that help reduce barriers associated with gaining a high school diploma equivalent. We need to advance these students into postsecondary education and living wage jobs. We also need to put more effort into tracking data about non-traditional adult students at the state-level to better understand what the educational and labor market outcomes are for adults who earn their high school equivalency.
Making smart investments in the state’s growing workforce is the only way that Texas can ensure it remains one of the best states for businesses and for its residents. The legislature can put us on the path toward addressing these challenges by continuing to ask hard questions about our most successful programs and institutions and then committing to investing in those successes.
Economic Opportunity Intern Abby Pfeiffer contributed to this post.