Bigger or Brighter

Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, BA ’64, PhD ’73, Life Member, says the state’s future depends on Latinos’ educational success. But the population is changing faster than Texas can keep up.

The Latino population of Texas is growing faster than any other large segment of the population. It won’t be long before Latinos are the majority in Texas. A study cited in The Economist pointed out that by 2050, Latino workers will outnumber Anglo workers in Texas three to one. So the question then becomes, what kind of economy are we going to have in 2050?

Are we going to have an economy dominated by poorly educated workers who don’t have the education or training to do high-skilled jobs? Or do we want to have an economy in which the largest portion of the population is well-educated and can meet all the challenges that the economy of the future will present?

The facts are very clear. A recent study from the Georgetown University Center for the Study of the Economy in Higher Education pointed out that in the six years since the Great Recession ended, 11.6 million new jobs were created. Out of those jobs, 11.5 million required some form of post-secondary education. It’s a startling change in the nature of the economy that a college education is becoming virtually indispensable.

However, Latinos are still the most under-educated portion of the Texas population. Unless we significantly improve Latino educational attainment, the Texas economy is going to become less competitive and less able to compete for high-skilled jobs. The Texas economy will suffer. It’s important that Texans understand that this challenge is critical to everybody. The economy, the ability to build schools and to provide social and health services all rely on the tax base. If you don’t have areas of the state that are generating significant tax revenues, the ability of the state to take care of its citizens will diminish.

Texas is one of the few states in the country where the young population is growing faster than the old population. So the youthfulness of Texas is a huge advantage, but only if we educate those young people. For example, the average age of a Latino in Texas is 28, compared to the total state population average of 42. That suggests Latinas will bear the majority of children in Texas for the foreseeable future. Unless we educate this young, growing population, the economy of Texas and the quality of life of Texas will suffer dramatically.

But there are a lot of factors working against young Latinos. First of all, Latinos typically are poor. We know that schools in poor communities are not as good as schools in affluent communities. The average Latino adult in Texas doesn’t even have a high school education. It’s hard to imagine how those parents with that kind of educational profile are going to be as effective in encouraging their children to go to college—like being able to provide advice and direction, and knowing about financial aid. Being the children of college-educated parents is one of the primary factors in whether he or she will seek a college degree. Latino students typically go to schools well below what they’re qualified for and many go to community colleges where the likelihood of success is much lower. Students rise up or descend to the level of expectations.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has a new state strategic plan named 60x30TX in which we want 60 percent of 24-35-year-olds to have some form of postsecondary credential by 2030. Right now we’re at about 40 percent. We also want to graduate 550,000 students by 2030. We want all graduates to have marketable skills and make sure we keep student debt manageable, which will be quite a challenge.

It’s up to the leaders in higher education to make a powerful case about why investing in higher education is a strong investment in the future of Texas. I’m proud of the fact that there’s much more attention being given to student success. When I arrived 12 years ago, the primary focus was on student access. Now, I think we’ve struck a balance between access and success. I think our best universities like UT-Austin and Texas A&M are stronger institutions than they were 15 years ago. Others are coming up—Texas Tech, the University of Houston, UT-Dallas, UT-San Antonio, just to name a handful. Community colleges are stronger.

But we’ve got to place a particular focus on Latino educational attainment. We have to find ways to encourage our Latino children to think about college and prepare for it, and then to be successful when they arrive on our campuses. That’s one of our biggest challenges as a state. We’ve gotten better, but we’re not getting better fast enough.

Illustration by Gisela Goppel

 

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