The Texas House of Representatives recently released its interim committee charges for the 87th Legislature. During the interim, the period between regular sessions, legislative committees are assigned certain policy topics to research and later provide recommendations. A review of the 60x30TX plan is the second topic assigned to the Higher Education committee.
The 60x30TX plan was launched in 2015 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to ensure that Texas will have a globally competitive workforce by 2030. The strategic plan has four goals: attainment, completion, marketable skills, and student loan debt. The goals are well-intended markers to advocate for increased postsecondary education accessibility for Texan families. As we approach the midpoint of the 60x30TX plan, let’s look at the progress Texas has made toward meeting these ambitious goals. We’ll also look at a recent expansion called Building a Talent Strong Texas, with new targets beyond those in the 60x30TX plan.
- Attainment: “At least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will have a certificate or degree by 2030.”
When the 60×30 plan was developed, only 40% of this age group had a certificate or degree. By 2020, the number rose to 45.3% – a 1.7% increase from the previous year, but only a 3% increase from 2017. If attainment continues to increase at this rate, Texas is unlikely to meet the goal of 60% by 2030. While a large increase in attainment took place between 2019 and 2020, Texas would need to average a 1.47% increase over the remaining 10 years (2020-2030) to reach 60%. Because the attainment goal includes people who relocate to Texas, it is possible that as Texas continues to cater to business and corporations through tax incentives, our state will attract a more educated population. However, Texas must put in more work to ensure that the students who graduate from a Texas high school enroll in a certificate or degree program. Increasing college attainment in Texas requires that students leave high school with the skills to thrive in a postsecondary environment and are able to enroll in such programs with adequate financial support. This pre-K-12 expectation can be attainable if Texas provides adequate funding to public schools that meets the needs of low-income and emergent bilingual students.
- Completion: “In 2030, at least 550,000 students will complete a certificate or an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree from an institution of higher education in Texas.”
The initial higher education completion level was a little over 310,000 Texans in 2015. Since then, annual completion numbers have increased by 12%. However, 2019 to 2020 saw only a 0.2% increase in the overall number of students who completed a degree or certificate. This is a small increase compared to prior years and the average rate of increase between 2018-2020 of 1.4%. Students who identified as Black (0.5%), Hispanic (2.9%), and/or “economically disadvantaged” (0.8%) saw a larger increase in certificate and degree completions compared to students overall, despite the onset of the pandemic. However, these groups are still below their target growth rates due to the daily challenges of systemic racism and oppression. This completion goal is impossible to reach without also ensuring that Black and Hispanic students are completing their programs at a significantly higher rate.
Part of the small increase in the completion of certificate and degree programs can be attributed to the onset of COVID-19. While some students canceled their plans to enroll, or made the difficult decision to quit or postpone their programs due to a lack of funding or added pressures from the pandemic, other students were forced to adjust to the immediate changes in the way their classes were formatted or switch their educational goals to a different certificate or degree. Community college enrollment also significantly decreased, which may eventually result in a smaller than anticipated number of students graduating from degree and certificate programs in the upcoming years.
Ultimately, additional support is needed for Texas to have at least 550,000 students complete a degree or certificate in 2030. This support includes better financial aid packages (with grants, scholarship and work-study programs), mentorship, and access to tutoring programs and targeted summer transition programs that help students matriculate into postsecondary programs immediately after graduating from high school.
- Marketable Skills: “All graduates (target 80%) from Texas public institutions of higher education will have completed programs with identified marketable skills.”
- Student Debt: “Undergraduate loan debt will not exceed 60 percent of first-year wages.”
With the new definition, there was only a 0.5 percentage point decrease in the percentage of undergraduates completing school with debt from 2019 to 2020. While Texas has been able to ensure that fewer than half of graduating students have debt (44.1%), student loan debt is a burden that many Texans are carrying, and it disproportionately impacts people of color and women.
Texas has taken up an additional target within this goal to reduce excess semester credit hours to an average of three by 2030. The purpose of this target is to ensure that students are taking the courses that will help them achieve their desired credentials, while decreasing completion time and reducing student debt. In 2017, the average credit hours attempted by students earning associate or bachelor’s degrees was an excess of 19 credit hours. By 2020, that average had been reduced to 14 excess student credit hours, a one-credit reduction from the previous year. On average, this is a statewide savings of about $92 or $317 in tuition and fees for a student who attends either a community college or public university, respectively.
It is also important to note that at the start of this year, THECB announced an expansion of the 60x30TX plan through the creation of a new plan that builds upon previous goals. This updated plan is titled Building a Talent Strong Texas. It seeks to connect additional students to “college degrees, certificates, and other credentials that offer purpose in the economy, value in the labor market, and opportunities for good jobs and meaningful careers.” Specifically, the plan includes these new targets:
- 60% of Texans ages 35-64 with a degree, certificate, or other high-value postsecondary credential by 2030;
- 95% of graduates having either no undergraduate student loan debt at all or manageable levels of debt in relation to their potential earnings;
- $1 billion increase in annual private and federal research expenditures by 2030; and
- 7,500 research doctorates awarded yearly by Texas institutions of higher education.
With only eight years to go, additional strategies and resources are needed to meet or exceed the college attainment goals of the 60x30TX plan and the Building a Talent Strong Texas plan. Considering the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and the needs of Black and brown students as they navigate historical and present forms of systemic racism, Every Texan’s policy roadmap clearly articulates the need for state and local leaders to prioritize ways to expand affordable access to college and implement state-level student borrower protections to safeguard students. Affordable access to college can be improved if the state:
- fully funds financial aid grants; and
- eliminates tuition and fees for low-income families.
Texas could also use federal stimulus funding to support college students who are facing housing, food, and employment insecurities. The goal of increasing the number of research doctorates will require additional state and institutional funding for graduate students to afford the cost of living in the city and program expenses.
Lastly, Texas needs to address the issue of student loan debt by:
- creating state-based student loan forgiveness programs,
- implementing borrower protections for students, and
- using federal stimulus funding to help undocumented/DACA students—who are excluded from federal support—fund their certificate or degree program.
Student loan forgiveness will increase economic mobility for our most vulnerable populations, decrease the racial-wealth gap, and spur wealth building for everyone — including those who do not have student loans.