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Report: Texas higher ed. failing to meet goals.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas higher-education system is enrolling more students than ever before, but the numbers still fall short of the state's expectations for ushering more students, particularly Hispanics, into college.

A new report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that enrollments are growing too slowly for the state to be competitive with other states in the proportion of its residents attending college.

"We're growing, but we're not on track to meet our goals," Texas Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Raymund Paredes said at a meeting of the coordinating board last month.

Four years ago the board set out an ambitious plan for getting 1.5 million students into higher education by 2015 to meet the demand for skilled labor. At that time, while the economy was growing, the proportion of Texans enrolled in higher education was declining.

So the board set out to add more students, including 100,000 more Hispanic students, over the next 15 years. The goal outlined in that plan, called "Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan," was to get 5.7 percent of the state's residents to participate in higher education.

"Enrollments in the state's public and independent colleges and universities are not keeping pace with the booming Texas population," that report said. "There is a shortfall in the number of degrees and certificates earned ... The state's workers are not able to support a growing state economy."

The latest report, an update on how the state is progressing toward reaching the goals of the "Closing the Gaps" plan, shows inadequate gains to this point.

"If we keep going on the trend we've been on, it looks like we would not meet the goal of 1.5 million enrolled in higher education," said Ray Grasshoff, a spokesman for the coordinating board. "And now we're realizing that the (5.7 percent) participation rate probably needs to be higher."

The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education challenged the board's goals as not aggressive enough and says many institutions haven't stepped up to the task of enrolling more Hispanics. An analysis of enrollment rates that the organization conducted in 2001 concluded "that the sum of institutional goals is a no growth approach to Hispanic participation."

With a rapidly increasing Hispanic population--Hispanics became a majority of the population in 2004, four years ahead of projections--state officials say they will need to enroll even more of those students to close participation gaps.

Community colleges are expected to absorb the bulk of new enrollees, Grasshoff said. Two-year enrollments are expected to increase by more than 10,000 students this year--to 570,000 students. By 2010 they can expect another 44,000 students to enroll, according to the board's new report.

Moreover, with recent budgetary constraints, many of the colleges may not have the capacity to provide adequate and high-quality programs for the additional students.

"It is believed that 70 percent or more of the new enrollees are going to start at the community college," Grasshoff said. "This is a problem because many have reached their maximum tax rates, their appropriations have been fiat, and they've had to absorb more of the students."

Some individual institutions are likely to feel particular strain from enrollment growth. The El Paso Community College District, for example, is expected to see a nearly 60 percent increase in its student body, from 17,747 in 2000 to 28,154 in 2015. Many smaller colleges are expected to see considerable growth, too.

While Hispanic students are the fastest growing group of college students, they still lag in participation behind their white peers, who represent nearly 51 percent of the student body. In 2003, for example, 265,000 of the students enrolled in the state's community colleges were white, compared with 160,500 Hispanic students. About 60,000 students were African-American.

To push for more rapid enrollment growth, the state has launched a campaign to make more people aware of the value of higher education, the costs and the availability of financial aid.

Officials are optimistic that an improving economy will provide more money to the state's colleges and universities to help them meet the challenge of expanding access and participation in their programs.

"The speaker of the house just told a business group that he believes higher education, and specifically the community colleges, need more resources, so there's some recognition that we need to do more to help the colleges meet the enrollment goals," Grasshoff said. "And the economy looks much better this time, so there is some projection that there may be additional money in the budget for this."
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Title Annotation:around the nation
Author:Manzo, Kathleen Kennedy
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Feb 14, 2005
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