The Higher Ed Mandate: Better and Faster

January 07, 2013

The Higher Ed Mandate: Better and Faster

By Jim Windham

This mandate is the same for all of U. S. higher education, but it is particularly applicable to Texas, where, as we look to the opening of the legislative session in January, the pressure is on all state funded colleges and universities to cut costs, improve productivity, and enhance student outcomes, all in a difficult state fiscal environment.

But we must find a way.  According to the November newsletter from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), Texas is falling further behind its international competitors in educational attainment.  In fact, only 32% of 25-34 year olds in Texas hold an associate’s degree or higher, a percentage which ranks 24th among industrialized countries and worse, this percentage is lower than the preceding generation of adults for the first time in history!  Not a good trend when, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2020 65% of all U. S. jobs will require postsecondary education or training.

When the legislature convenes, there will be a number of significant proposals from legislators to improve higher education accountability and productivity.  Hats off to The University of Texas and Texas A&M University for taking an appropriate leadership role in introducing innovative measures to provide more attention to and transparency on performance metrics.  In addition to improving taxpayer and investor transparency, these data points and metrics will be important in structuring new business and delivery models and incentives for productivity enhancement.

New funding models are long overdue.  As the THECB notes, “our current funding model fails to promote higher education outcomes that align with future state workforce needs”.  One enhancement that has already received considerable discussion is a proposal that would allocate 10% of state funding based on key metrics measuring student success for each sector of higher education.  Hopefully this percentage can be increased over time, but it would be a good start in tying funding to productivity as measured by student outcomes.  And there will be metrics proposed to measure community colleges in their unique and growing role in serving the needs of their respective regions, particularly in career and technology education.

The need is urgent.  Let’s hope that there is leadership to match.

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