The Senate Education S/C on Higher Education met on March 1st to hold an organizational hearing and to hear invited testimony from Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller. A video archive of the hearing can be found here.

This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight the various topics taken up. It is not a verbatim transcript of the discussions but is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.

 

Opening Comments

  • Chair Creighton – There are bills of interest to members of the Education Committee at large that are not on the S/C,
  • In the interest of not having to repeat hearings on certain bills proposing to move some higher education bills up to the full committee before the bills are set for public hearing
  • Will allow all members to hear the important public testimony necessary for proper consideration
  • Easiest way to get the bills to full Committee without voting on the merits is to report them from the S/C to the Education Committee with no recommendations
  • Committee rules were adopted without comment

 

Harrison Keller, Commissioner of Higher Education

  • More than 60% of jobs by 2030 will require postsecondary credentials; important to invest strategically in higher education so Texas can remain competitive
  • Last year they updated their plan, Building a Talent Strong Texas
    • Today only 40% have degrees or certificates, credentials about 6%
    • Reports are still out there that employers can find workers with skills they need
    • Drag on the economy today
    • 92% of all new jobs require training beyond high school today
    • Also need a stronger research and development focus
  • Credential of value concept – reflect knowledge skills and abilities student need for today and tomorrow, cost of requiring credentials is within student reach
  • Reaching this goal is a shared responsibility
  • Currently investing more than $600m/year for student financial aid programs benefiting more than 100k students, but doesn’t currently support all eligible students
  • 54.5% of eligible students being funded; gap was worse for 2-year institutions, Texas Educational Opportunity Grant eligible students receiving aid was a little more than 27%
  • This year we expect to serve about 70% of eligible students through the Texas Grant Program and about 28% of TEOG at community colleges, 23% at state & technical colleges
  • Gov & legislature made investments into higher ed through emergency funding & majority went to financial aid; also implemented two financial aid strategies, Transfer Grant Program & Texas Leadership Scholars Program
  • Exceptional item for $153m to make sure we don’t lose ground
  • Issue of affordability and access was a major discussion around community college finance, HB 1 included funding to bring TEOGs up to parity
  • THECB is rolling out tool this Spring called My Texas Future to assist students research occupations & develop pathway to graduation; have an exceptional item request for student outreach
  • Still seeing substantial impact on Higher Ed enrollment from COVID, only seeing large growth in health care related institutions and TSTC; community college enrollments tend to track with unemployment
  • After seeing sharp drop in enrollments, became clear we needed to look at how state could better support community colleges; current finance model has been in place for decades & largely based on kinds of courses offered
  • Community colleges have a large role to play in expanding job opportunities & workforce availability
  • Most fundamental change would shift focus of finance system to a dynamic outcomes-based model; THECB dug deeply into smaller costs and costs that rural institutions feel over larger ones
  • Recommendations would also include additional funding for students needing support
  • Focus on supporting collaboration within & across institutions with workforce grants, shared services coordinated through THECB
  • Springer – You spoke about the Texas grants accelerating to 54 to 70+, but TEOG is lagging in growth?
    • Keller, THECB – Historically the legislature has taken up need-based aid programs separately; one recommendation is to establish new metric across these programs
  • Springer – So wasn’t that people weren’t applying, was a funding mechanism?
    • Yes, need is there
    • Seeing in many cases students transferring to universities from community colleges ending up with similar debt to those starting in universities, one of the reasons we highlighted targeting these programs
  • Springer – Asks about virtual coursework
    • Harder question for us to answer as we have more & more classes that are hybrid, e.g. online lecture with lab sections
  • Springer – Comm. Morath stated most students don’t learn well virtually, concern is if a 4-year virtual degree is the same as in-person
    • Right question to ask, had impacts on education and mental health
    • Important to draw distinction between emergency online instruction and what I would call “digital learning”
    • Saw much more openness to using technology during the pandemic, can also be a lot of advantages in the quality of instruction if we design it appropriately
    • Have been leaning into helping provide grant support and coordination for institutions so you see more high quality in digital learning; don’t just want to publish lectures to web
  • Springer – Eldest graduated in 2019 and saw success in hybrid program, youngest was challenged by it; each child is different
    • Agrees, also saw drastically increased administrative load to support online learning during the early pandemic; a lot of interesting things came out of that work, but a lot did not work
  • Springer – Met with about 25 of the community college presidents, glad to see they were open to outcomes-based approach; from a cost standpoint, some kids from certain areas are at a disadvantage, not sure how to close that gap
    • THECB dug a lot into disparities, #1 point was to close gap on eligibility for financial aid
    • State has never provided additional funding to community colleges for services that disadvantaged students will require; part of solution is funding colleges so they can better support students
  • Springer – First tier is that financial aid that gets them at parity with a neighbor
    • That’s right, still not addressed are the differences in taxing districts and service areas; no recommendation on this & will be an issue that continues
    • Some recommendations will mitigate issues for property, e.g. one penny of tax effort generates disparate amounts, one recommendation would provide base funding for instruction and operations
  • Springer – If we aren’t going to have a maintenance tax, need to make sure students have same opportunity as students across the county line
    • Agrees
  • Chair Creighton – health-related up, TSTC up, On enrollment rates, community colleges are down 10-12%, job market can affect; seeing anything outside of these trends, anything new?
    • Colleges are seeing dual credit enrollment up and more participation int eh workforce program
    • With wages available from high school diplomas, many choose to put off higher ed to enter job market; vulnerability in this is almost all good jobs require workforce training
    • Would like to see more students enrolled and working & more flexible programs that allow this
  • Chair Creighton – Seems to be two trends, increasing requirements for postsecondary credentialing for jobs & growing discussion about how college isn’t for everyone
  • Chair Creighton – See TSTC enrollment growing 45%, some declining; how do we reconcile the two?
    • Part of the problem is meaning behind college isn’t for everybody being 4 year college
  • Chair Creighton – How we define college
    • Need to encourage choosing the correct kind of college
    • There are a lot of people who don’t think of technical or community college as college
    • Employers are needing more and more credentials, could be a short-term workforce credential
  • Chair Creighton – Will continue to have these conversations throughout the session and policy on it
  • Middleton – Trends for Tuition Equalization Grants?
    • Will get this to you
  • West – Financial aid is the great determinant?
    • Most powerful tool at your disposal
  • West – How many students are actually eligible to be served by
    • If we served all eligible students, we would double the numbers; serve about 100k now
  • West – So close to 200k eligible? And we serve what percent?
    • For Texas Grant about 70%, for TEOG only about 28%, so 72% of students we know are eligible aren’t receiving funding; driving debt
  • Chair Creighton – Aren’t receiving funding or didn’t request?
    • They filed FAFSA, in their financial aid packages they aren’t receiving the TEOG they would if the institution had funding
  • West – And we’ve institutionalized all students filing out FAFSA unless they opt-out?
    • We have, data on financial aid we have is good
  • West – So 72% don’t have funding
    • On the TEOG side, grateful for contingency riders in HB 1 and SB 1 that fully fund @$139m; would bring TEOG more up on parity with Texas Grant
    • Commission also suggested new performance metric to serve minimum of 70% of students across need-based aid programs
  • West – What percentage of Texas Grants are we not serving on FAFSA?
    • Probably about 28% of students, inverse of TEOG