Being envious of average

State Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes may be part of the Rick Perry administration, but he hasn’t drunk all the Rick Perry KoolAid, at least not the election year flavor that claims Texas is the “envy” of the nation.

Consider Paredes’ recent report to Texas A&M regents about the state’s efforts to improve access to college enrollment, the socalled “Closing the Gaps” initiative that began in 2000, the year Perry first moved into the governor’s office. At this point, Paredes admitted, the state is not driving for the gold standard, but for mediocrity.

“All we’re trying to do by the year 2015 is to get parity with collegegoing rates in the 10 largest states. That’s all,” he told the regents. “Our aspiration in this initial effort is to become average.”

Paredes’ comments were reported in the BryanCollege Station Eagle.

The Closing the Gaps goal was to increase higher education enrollment in Texas by 630,000 by 2015. By fall 2009, enrollment had increased by about 400,000, and most of that had occurred in community colleges, Paredes reported.

Coincidentally, a new report by the College Board, which administers the SAT and AP tests, ranks Texas 40th among the states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of residents between the ages of 25 and 34 who have associate degrees or higher. Texas’ 27 percent was well below the 41 percent national average.

Experts attributed Texas’ poor finding to a large number of firstgeneration college students and a large number of lowincome students who can’t afford to stay in school.

Thanks to everincreasing tuition, even middleincome students are having trouble paying their university bills, a problem that threatens to worsen next year in the face of the state’s anticipated $18 billion revenue shortfall.

Paredes wants to address the middleincome problem by basing state financial assistance to students on merit as well as need. That idea may be worth exploring, but the major problem is that needbased grants aren’t funded enough to meet all the demand from lowincome students and are likely to fall even shorter because of the deficit.

The big question is: Will Texas stretch high enough to become average?

Here are links to the two articles:

http://www.theeagle.com/am/Gapsnotyetfilledleadersays

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DNcollegedegree_23tex.ART.State.Edition1.4d21e47.html

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