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60x30TX Conference

April 5, 2016

Twenty-six seconds—that’s a number that continuously haunts me and makes me wonder why I’m even standing here rather than working hard trying to increase it. But then I remind myself that this group may well be the engine that makes that happen.

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to the University of Texas at Arlington and the first regional 60 x 30 TX conference.  Let me right at the outset do two things. First, thank Commissioner Parades, members of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and members of the 2014-15 Texas Higher Education Strategic Planning Committee for both giving all of us a wakeup call as related to our responsibilities towards the education of all Texans and also for issuing a bold challenge that will necessitate that we come together and work as a team across institutional boundaries keeping the interests of students and the state uppermost in our minds.

Second, I’d like to thank all of you for being here today.  Your presence indicates a willingness to forge a new future based on collaboration and partnerships, and a commitment to re-envisioning how we address the needs for workforce development, generation of highly skilled intellectual capital, and ensuring economic prosperity for the state. 

Education is at a crossroads in more ways than one.  The pipelines that we used to speak of wherein students moved smoothly from high school to a four-year institution, or from high school to a community college and then to a four-year institution no longer exist, having been replaced by intricate and complex pathways that often go back and forth across more than two institutions. 

Student retention and progression are national issues of import and one can find statistics provided by various agencies showing that 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year.  Put another way, one student drops out every 26 seconds.  Put another way—since Lynne Waters welcomed us this morning another 58 students have dropped out across the U.S.

And only a few of these are due to academic reasons.  A majority are due to other challenges—responsibilities to siblings, families, including their own and children or just being turned off by a “boring” curriculum that at times appears to have no link to real life.  Statistics from NSC and NCES show that 36 percent of students in the secondary education pipeline drop out in or at the 9th grade level.  Put another way, of every 100 students who come into the 9th grade, only 64 will continue to high school, of which only 40 will begin a two-year or four-year education.  And of these 40, only 22 will receive an associates or bachelors degree or certificate in six years, and only two more will achieve that in eight.  This is indeed a challenge that we cannot hide from—it’s a terrible waste of human capital. 

Our educational system was designed for, and works fairly well, for the traditional student—the motivated student in high school with a family determined that their daughter or son will get a college education; who enters a four-year university as a teenager poised to have fun but also focused on getting a degree in four to six years.  But an increasing percentage of our youth do not fit that neat profile. They are from single parent families, first to go to college and without the motivated parents who provided support. They are older, juggling jobs, careers, family and classes and perhaps not up to the academic standards needed for success.  It is this profile that we must keep in mind since their numbers are increasing and our conventional educational system is not focused on their needs resulting in high drop-out levels and significant consequent societal challenges.

Across the U.S. immediate college enrollment rates have decreased from 70 percent in 2009 to 66 percent in 2013.  According to the latest NCES “Condition of Education” report in 2013, the immediate college enrollment rate for high school completers from high-income families (80 percent) was 31 percentage points higher than the rate for those from low-income families (49 percent) and 15 percentage points higher than the rate for those from middle-income families (64 percent).

It is in this context that we need to look at the challenge in front of us and develop solutions.  While I cannot claim to have all the answers, or even some, what I’m going to try to do in the next few minutes is briefly put forth some thoughts and ideas.

Before I begin though I’d like to set the context.  For those who have not heard of us UTA is the 2nd largest academic campus in the UT System with a population of 38,000 students resident in the state of Texas for purposes of an education and over 52,000 when online degree seeking students are included.  We are representative of a true urban university drawing both freshmen directly from high school and transfers from community colleges and other institutions.  In fact over 66 percent of our class of new incoming students every year come to us as transfer students, ranking us third in the nation for transfer student population. 

For the third year in a row, UTA ranks fifth among national universities for undergraduate diversity. About 28.5 percent of our undergraduates are Hispanic, while about 16 percent are African-American and 12 percent are Asian-American.  Of these students almost half, 48 percent, are the first in their families to attend college, 71 percent report being employed during the school year with over 27 percent working 40 hours or more a week, with another 17 percent working between 21 and 39 hours a week. 

Last year alone we conferred 10,585 degrees, placing us third in the state in the generation of highly skilled intellectual capital behind UT Austin and Texas A&M, both of which have about double the number of schools and colleges as we do. What is even more remarkable is that our very high level of excellence comes at a significantly low cost to the state.  I’m proud to state that at UTA the cost per degree as a function of state allocations has gone down 48.2 percent since 2003, and when looked at in terms of total revenue, which includes tuition charged as reported by the THECB, it has gone down 8.2 percent. And that’s before accounting for inflation. Affordability, efficiency and excellence can go hand in hand and this is strengthened by our partnerships with ISDs and community colleges.

UTA is involved with a variety of initiatives to nurture and prepare students in this pipeline. From the University Crossroads program which focuses on college awareness, financial aid workshops, and SAT and math prep classes to our award winning Pathways to College Access and Readiness program that has served over 23,000 students and 3,000 parents through an emphasis on 24 GO centers in 9 partner districts where UTA mentors help high school students navigate the college admissions process, career exploration and potential final resources we are building a college going culture while providing early support for students.  In addition to the Bound for Success program which was initiated a year and a half ago, we have established a STEM Academy at Martin High School in the Arlington Independent School District and we announced just last month the establishment of a Teacher Academy at AISD.  Designed to help attract students to teaching as a career to meet the critical shortage of teachers in Texas the program enables students in high school to take both dual credit courses to complete the core and complete a few introductory courses towards their degree in education prior to graduation.  The expectation is that these students will not only finish earlier but will return to their high schools to teach.

But these steps are just the tip of the iceberg.  We must do more and be more innovative.  We must use technology to assist us.  Online and digital offerings, prepared and supported appropriately, are no longer a novelty and we need to employ these and other advancements to both engage our students to a higher degree and to enhance our capacity to reach even larger sets of the population.  But, and I’d like to emphasize this, technology by itself does not guarantee success – it must be applied correctly and supported at a very high level.

Schools, two-year colleges and four-year institutions need to work together to provide a seamless pipeline and pathways for students ensuring that curricula are not only aligned but are of a level of rigor that assures the success of students at each stage of their education.  The goal thus needs to move away from numbers graduating from high school to students prepared adequately for success once they enter 2-year and 4-year institutions.  We must work to significantly reduce the level of remediation that takes place with inadequately prepared students at each level.  This can only be done by faculty working together sharing expertise and developing a common set of expectations.  Regionally we must put aside individual egos and work across administrative bounds ensuring student success.  Some of this is currently in place between AISD, TCC and UTA, but far more needs to be done in a structured format. I commit, on behalf of UTA, to reach out to all in the Metroplex to being a willing partner – the stakes are too high for all of us not to work together.

In addition we need to ensure that dual credit courses offered in high schools are of the highest quality and rigor adequately preparing students for success in subsequent courses.  This will require adequately trained instructors and a commonality of requirements for rigor and preparation between two-year and four-year institutions.

For too long now we have complained about the challenges of credit transfer.  We must work to ensure that students are both adequately informed and advised about the courses that can, and cannot, be taken for specific majors and that when selected appropriately the courses not only transfer but count towards degree completion.  Common course numbering, collaboration in advising including through the early transfer identification program enabling sharing of educational records for purposes of advising, and the development of degree plans that clearly identify courses to be completed at the 2-year college—are all steps that need to be implemented. 

We must substantially decrease the number of credits that transfer but do not count towards degree progression.  These excess hours are both a waste of time and money—resources that could be better committed elsewhere.  In addition to collaborative advising on agreed upon degree plans when a student first begins at a two-year college or perhaps even high school.  We might perhaps look at the creation of meta-majors to build on commonality.  A student, for example, may not know of the exact major, say nursing, while at a two-year institution, but might be aware of a definite interest in the medical field, or business, or engineering.  The meta major could include basic courses that would be taken by all in those fields providing ease of transfer and a closer approach to the implementation of a true 2+2 progression with lower division courses being offered almost exclusively by the two-year institution and upper division courses by the partner four-year institution for specific degrees.  Consider the savings in cost to a student as well as the leveraging of resources across both institutions.

Similar to the structure in the California Master plan, we need to create a DFW or N Texas Master plan whereby students graduating from high school are assured of a path through a two-year institution to a four-year university with a guarantee that if a predefined set of courses is completed with a threshold GPA, that they would only be admitted to the university in the major of choice but would enter as true juniors.  This might seem challenging, but it’s not all that difficult and at UTA we are already working towards the implementation of such partnerships including for purposes of degree completion by returning adults.  Flexibility and partnerships between faculty will be the key here and there are some great examples of success such as in business and engineering between TCC–SE and UTA.  Again, I’d like to offer us as a partner in making this happen – just consider the power of such an agreement even if its restricted to just this region.

The creation of a highly skilled workforce cannot be the responsibility of educational institutions alone.  Consider the power of a partnership between a consortium of corporate entities and educational institutions wherein the corporate partners provide scholarships to enable students to purse education in fields in which they desire employees.  A mix of scholarships and summer internships would not only enable students to graduate with lower debt but would also provide the corporate world with graduates ready to hit the ground running.

These and many more aspects need to be identified, developed and implemented and I’m hoping that the sessions today will help us in reaching out to each other for the benefit of students.

I’d like to conclude with a few points that I hope you’ll continue to ponder on after this talk.  First—we need to address the challenge of ensuring access and excellence simultaneously.  We can no longer hide by claiming that excellence demand elitism or that we do not all bear a responsibility for the education of the citizenry in our region of influence.  Numbers alone demand that we change our focus and enhance our capabilities even as the rapid changes in demographics require new methods of engagement, better and more focused levels of support, and enhanced outreach to communities, including families, in ways that they need for success rather than the methods that we’ve used for decades. 

Second, we need to simplify, not complicate, the methods by which students apply to and gain admission to college.  At a time when its possible to use the internet to access information at the click of a button, it’s unfathomable why the application process takes longer, is more complex, and results in turning off more students than ever before.  It’s not that we do not have the tools, or that support at some level financially does not exist for most, rather it is that it is difficult to understand, access, and then obtain.  This has to change as we truly forge new ways to create smooth pipelines and pathways from pre-K through Gray.  The continuum we speak of is of no value if it’s not implemented and if collaboration between institutions – schools, 2-year colleges and universities is not focused on students and their ease of access and success.

And finally – lets all remember that the real reason we exist is our students, their education and their success.

Thank you.