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Recap: Senate Higher Education Committee Interim Hearing

May 13, 2022
The Texas Senate Committee on Higher Education met on Tuesday, May 10. The Committee met to address several interim charges, including:
  • Enrollment Trends
  • Monitoring: Tri-Agency Initiative and TRUE bills
  • Workforce Trends
  • Funding the Permanent University Fund
  • Teaching and Health Care Workforce Participation
The Committee began by hearing invited testimony from Commissioner Harrison Keller of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Dr. Kenyatta Lovett, Managing Director of Higher Education and Workforce at Educate Texas. See Commissioner Keller’s slides.

Interim Charge Addressed
Enrollment Trends: Study the postsecondary enrollment trends across all sectors and levels of higher education in Texas, with a review on specific challenges to enrollment. Consider the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on direct high school-to-college enrollment, first-time college enrollment, transferability, and retention rates, as well as the overall impact on community college enrollment. Make recommendations on specific methods to address disparities and pandemic impacts relating to enrollment trends in order to achieve Texas' higher education goals in building a Talent Strong Texas.

Commissioner Keller’s testimony ranged in topic, including:
  • An update on the Building a Talent Strong Texas state higher education strategic plan, including an emphasis on THECB’s focus on broadening the scope of credentials to consider towards state goals and a focus on credentials of value.
  • Information about postsecondary education enrollment and attainment:
    • During the last 2 years, more than 70% of unemployment claims processed by TWC were by those with no postsecondary credentials.
    • Across the state, institutions are certifying their Spring enrollment data – looks like enrollment is still down 1-2% for both universities and community colleges.
    • At community colleges, both academic and workforce credential enrollments are down when you remove dual credit numbers.
    • Before the pandemic, about 17% of Texas high school graduates that were in the top 10% and applied to a Texas public university were not enrolled anywhere. Of these students, 17.5% are African American students and 17.7% are Hispanic students.
    • The economy is accelerating faster than anticipated. By 2030, 62% of all jobs in Texas will require some postsecondary education (Anthony Carnevale, Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University).
Dr. Lovett followed Commissioner Keller. His testimony provided an overview of lessons learned from interventions and innovations that took place during the pandemic to support students in enrolling in college. Dr. Lovett provided recommendations for the state to consider in addressing current postsecondary enrollment challenges, including:
  • Alignment and collaboration across state agencies,
  • Leveraging HB 3 CCRM Bonus funds,
  • Expanding employer engagement and technology, and
  • Aligning higher education funding structures with employer needs (short term credentials, reskilling and upskilling needs).
Dr. Lovett’s testimony is available to watch here.
Members of the Committee asked Commissioner Keller and Dr. Lovett questions, including:
  • Is data on top 10% graduates tracked? Answer: THECB is focusing on direct to college enrollment of these students. Looking into if these students enrolled later, what those programs were. We think we need to have more flexible programs available to give students the option to work and continue in their educational pathway.
  • Requested updates on the allocation of Texas Reskilling and Upskilling Through Education (TRUE) grants. Answer: This will be critical. We have our leading institutions, but we need more seats in these programs and to scale these programs across the state. We are investing directly in the capacity of these institutions. We have critical needs across specific workforce domains and need to bolster the talent pipeline.
  • How does THECB work with institutions to address the lack of direct to college enrollments for minority students? Answer: There are four major domains: 1. Data – reflect data back to institutions. We need to better identify high-potential students. 2. Advising – AdviseTX, texting directly with students across the state. 3. Policy Innovations – new, more flexible pathways to get students from high school to college. 4. Strategic allocations of financial aid – more predictable resources. First generation college students think college is out of reach.
  • Why didn’t we focus on micro credentials as a part of the attainment metrics [in 60x30 TX, now Building a Talent Strong Texas] early on? Answer: Texas was focused on educational attainment in general. Now, Talent Strong Texas broadens the types of credentials considered, so long as they translate to positive economic value and outcomes for students. There may be some credentials that won’t count towards the state’s attainment goals.
The Committee heard invited testimony from the following individuals on the same interim charge:
  • Dr. Mike Flores, Alamo College District
  • Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, Amarillo College
  • Dr. James Hurley, Tarleton State University
  • Dr. Jaime R. Taylor, Lamar University
The Committee then heard invited testimony from Commissioner Mike Morath of the Texas Education Agency, Commissioner Harrison Keller of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Commissioner Bryan Daniel of the Texas Workforce Commission.

Interim Charges Addressed
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Higher Education passed by the 87th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee's jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
  • Senate Bill 1102, relating to the establishment of the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Program to support workforce education;
  • House Bill 3767, relating to measures to support the alignment of education and workforce development in the state with state workforce needs, including the establishment of the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative.
‚ÄčWorkforce Education: Evaluate state efforts to support access to work-based learning and micro-credential opportunities, including apprenticeships, industry- based certificates and certifications, as well as competency-based education. Assess the potential benefits of expanding access to work-based learning, apprenticeships, micro-credentials, and industry-based certifications that are aligned to workforce needs and provide in-demand workforce skills and competencies. Evaluate existing resources and programs at institutions, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Workforce Commission to support these opportunities and ultimately reach Tri-Agency goals. Consider recommendations to standardize these programs in order increase postsecondary degree completions.

The three commissioners testified as a panel. Here are a few key points made:
  • Provided an update on the Tri-Agency Initiative, including remarks from Commissioner Keller about collaboration on a tri-agency data sharing agreement and portal.
  • Provided an overview of a credential library, being developed together by TEA, THECB and TWC, that should enable students to identify which courses lead to available credentials and then into potential careers.
  • TWC is working on identifying for each county in Texas what a self-sufficient wage is; stating that the best available tool for this is out of state, but their data is incomplete.
  • Provided an update on the TRUE initiative, including remarks made by Commissioner Morath about the HB 3 CCMR bonus incenting career preparation in preK-12 in partnership with higher education and business.
  • Discussed THECB’s focus on credentials of value in the new Building a Talent Strong Texas plan.
  • Discussed apprenticeships with a focused on high-wage, high-skill jobs. TWC deployed federal grants to build more registered apprenticeship programs. Commissioner Daniel said the success of these programs is incumbent on the employer partners.
Members of the Committee asked questions, including:
  • Following remarks about self-sufficient wages, what about college, career and military readiness (CCMR) in high school? Answer from Commissioner Morath: The goals of HB 3767 are the same as the goals we have internally. CCMR is a piece of measuring the talent pipeline. As long as we can diagnose the starting and ending point, we then disaggregate this data starting in 3rd grade.
  • Should we expect the entire $15 million to be allocated to the TRUE program this round? Answer from Commissioner Keller: We would expect so. We were able to secure $25 million to jumpstart micro-credentials in the spirit of the TRUE initiative.
  • How do we ensure pathways towards certification programs are not operating as tracking did and pushing too many minority students into one direction? Answer from Commissioner Morath: STAAR report card includes a line encouraging high achieving students, regardless of their background, to pursue a higher-level course to get those students into rigorous pathways – it is seen as a both-and. Advising is another part of ensuring that opportunities are opened up for students, especially for students in demographic groups that have not historically been represented well. A broad Tri-Agency Initiative objective is to improve the advising function, starting in upper middle school.
  • Are we having conversations with students on not wanting to go to college? Answer from Commissioner Morath: Students needs to receive advising on applying to college, paying for college, different programs etc. TEA is working on an advising framework to get close to this. The volume of advisors and the staffing of counselors is critical. The best pathway the state has identified is the P-TECH model.
 The Committee heard invited testimony from the following individuals on the same interim charges:
  • Mike Midgley, Vice Chancellor of Instruction, Austin Community College
  • Mike Reeser, Texas State Technical College
  • Dr. John Hurtado, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station
  • Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, University of Houston
The Committee then heard invited testimony from Ken Martin of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Interim Charge Addressed
Teaching and Health Care Workforce Participation: Review financial aid and scholarship opportunities in Texas related to teaching, health care, and law enforcement, and examine methods to increase participation in these and other high-demand fields. In particular, study the participation rates of the Math and Science Scholars Loan Repayment Program, the Peace Officer Loan Repayment Program, and the Nursing Corps Loan Repayment Program, and make recommendations on ways to increase participation rates in each area.

The Committee then heard invited testimony to address the Permanent University Fund.

Interim Charge Addressed
Funding Permanent University Fund: Review the history and use of the Permanent University Fund for the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, and explore the creation of a new legacy fund to address the needs of all other higher education institutions in Texas. Make recommendations on methods to streamline other existing research funds and finance research academic institutions in Texas.

The Committee heard invited testimony from the following individuals on the same interim charges:
  • Terry Hull of the University of Texas System
  • Billy Hamilton, Texas A&M University System
  • Louellen Lowe, Legislative Budget Board
  • Dr. Renu Khator, University of Houston
  • Dr. Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech University
Public testimony began at 5:16:08 of the May 10 Higher Education archived video.

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