Students, Educators, and Lawmakers Must All Do Their Part

Students educators lawmakers must all do their part

Most Texans agree with the push to increase graduation rates at our state universities. UT-Austin has set an admirable goal of a 70 percent four-year graduation rate by 2017. Beyond the attention students, parents, and educators are putting to this issue, what can the Texas Legislature do to help make this a reality?

As a member of the House Higher Education Committee and House Appropriations Committee, I took part in conversations this past legislative session about funding our colleges and universities based on their outcomes, rather than using traditional funding models. With outcomes-based funding, the university is rewarded for increasing graduation rates. Yet coming off a session in 2011 where higher education funding was cut, there was reluctance in the 2013 session to attach new strings to funding that was simply being restored.

There were also questions as to whether any percentage of outcomes-based funding should be removed from an institution’s formula funding and then restored based on performance, or whether it should be additional incentive money for universities. Community colleges are now under a system with partial outcomes-based funding and the Legislature will be exploring more issues related to formula funding prior to the 2015 legislative session. Increasing accountability for precious state tax dollars is a good thing; outcomes-based funding for universities deserves more discussion to ensure that, before it is implemented, we have a system that is fair and rewards our universities for the right results.

As a parent with kids in college, I strongly support more partnerships between our high schools, community colleges, and universities to ensure that there are easier avenues to transition between institutions. Dual credit and AP classes at the high school level give students a clear advantage when they are able to begin their post-secondary education having already earned some credits. Common course numbering and simplifying credit transfer can also help ease the transition between schools and ensure that students do not have to retake—and pay for—the same course twice.

The expansion of two options that are already available may also help us reach the goal of increasing four-year graduation rates. Current statute allows universities to charge out-of-state tuition to resident students who take more than 30 hours above their degree plan requirements. While college is a time to explore and allow students to find their passion, we must educate them about the tangible benefits associated with graduating on time. One innovative approach that UT-Austin is already employing is the relatively new School of Undergraduate Studies, where undeclared freshmen spend their first year taking core classes with intensive academic advising and career counseling. I hope that forthcoming data will show positive results that we can expand and replicate at other universities.

It is clear that we have the resources and innovative mindset to increase our four-year graduation rates. Students who graduate on time are statistically more likely to have less debt, and therefore contribute more to our economy; it is to their advantage and ours as a state for them to join the workforce as soon as possible. With educators, students, their families, and lawmakers all working together, we can continue to achieve higher education standards in Texas.

State Rep. Drew Darby, BBA ’69, JD ’71, represents District 72 in the Texas House of Representatives. 

 

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