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The 11th Annual College & Career Readiness Summit hosted by South Texas College by held at the Region 1 Education Service Center in Edinburg, Texas.

EDINBURG, RGV – The State of Texas will only achieve its goal of greater educational attainment for young people if its public schools, community colleges and four-year universities work in a unified fashion.

This is the view of Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. Reed made her views known about the state of education in the Lone Star State after listening to Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, Higher Education Commissioner for Texas, discuss Texas’ new 60x30TX plan.

Paredes gave the keynote speech at STC’s 11th Annual College & Career Readiness Summit, held at the Region 1 Education Service Center headquarters in Edinburg on Monday. The theme of the summit was “Their Future in the Making.”Paredes titled his speech, “60x30TX and Student Success.”

“The overarching goal of 60x30TX is that, by 2030, at least 60 percent of our youngest cohort of adults should hold a degree. That is, that those aged 25-34 should hold some form of post-secondary credential,” Paredes said.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian afterwards, Reed said: “The State of Texas is not going to achieve its goals if it does not foster partnerships between community colleges, universities and our public schools. We cannot begin to accommodate the number of students that Texas needs to have participating in higher education if we don’t get them started and motivated in high school. I know there are naysayers out there and there are critics but we see the successes every day.”

Duel Enrollment and RGV

Reed was referring to the success STC has had in developing dual enrollment programs with school districts in Hidalgo and Starr counties. She gave an example of a student, Oscar, who had just earned an associate degree in criminal justice while still at PSJA ISD. “Now he is going to go to UTRGV and finish his bachelor’s degree and his goal is to go to law school. Would this have happened if he had not had the opportunity to get two years of college free of charge? This is what it is all about – providing opportunities that would not have occurred if it were not for dual enrollment.”

Reed acknowledged that Paredes has some concerns about dual enrollment.

“He has valid concerns and we do not argue with that. He is very concerned about the academic quality of dual enrollment. We are too and we guard it ferociously. We have done the studies that show dual enrollment students do really, really, well. But maybe the programs are not as well developed in some parts of Texas. I do not know,” Reed said.

Reed reiterated her main theme. “Higher Ed cannot do this alone; Public Ed cannot do this alone.”

Reed then addressed the importance of educating Texas’ fast growing Latino population.

“The Commissioner (Paredes) stressed the importance of Latinos in Higher Ed. You have heard Dr. Steve Murdock, our former state demographer, tell us, if this state does not have its minority population well educated, the social and economic consequences will be damaging.”

Reed pointed to statistics Paredes provided in his speech: “Very, very soon the Latino population will exceed the Anglo population in Texas. They are going to have to have the skill sets to function effectively in the job market. If we do not have that trained workforce in Texas, our companies are going to have to go someplace else, where they have the workers.”

Starting with Nothing

Reed said the partnerships between public schools and community colleges are probably happening at a faster rate in the Valley than anywhere else in Texas. “Up in the Gulf Coast they are doing well but all too often (across other parts of Texas) these entities are functioning in isolation. It could be just unique to our development (that things are going so well). We (STC) started with nothing so we have to work with everybody. We have made it work with everybody and it has really been a great investment. Look at the benefits this community is reaping every day because of these collaborations. It is not just PSJA. We have partnerships with 21 school districts.”

Reed was asked to give examples. “Dual enrollment is a prime one. Early college high schools is another one. In Mission and Weslaco school districts, we have what we call career and technology early college high schools. They are very much focused on students that want to get a degree in welding, precision manufacturing, or diesel. High demand, good paying jobs. The way it is working, they (the school districts) are providing the facility, they have bought the technical equipment for the training. We are providing the faculty and expertise. Another example is McAllen ISD and its Achieve Early College High School. It is located on our campus. Granted it is portables right now but it is a start. There are examples all over the place.”

Asked if the key to the Valley’s future is growing a strong Middle Class, Reed said: “I am just convinced that a key part of our mission is to create regional prosperity, social mobility, to help move families out of the poverty cycle. The only way you do that is by having a job, and you cannot get a job without some competent skills. To me, that is how you create a middle class in this region.”

Asked how pleased she was with this year’s College & Career Readiness Summit, Reed said: “This is the 11th year and I believe it is the most successful one we had. We had great speakers who are on the front edge of the new initiatives in Texas that will help us achieve that 60x30TX plan. The student panelists were exceptional. We designed that panel so that everybody was reminded of the struggles these students face when they are not college ready.”

Keynote Address

Paredes started his keynote address at the College & Career Readiness Summit by citing some education-related statistics. He said one study had shown that children from affluent families, by the age of four, have heard 30 million more words than children from poor families.  He said the same study found that the nature of the language the children had heard is very different. Poor children hear words mostly that rebuke the children, ‘don’t do that,’ ‘don’t go there.’ Children from affluent families, hear words that are supportive and encouraging and stimulating, Paredes said.

Paredes said if a child is not reading at grade level by the third grade he or she gas about a ten percent chance of going to college. If a student is poor at reading by the time he or she reaches the eighth grade the chances of completing some form of post-secondary credential is only ten percent, he said.

“This is the salient point. If you fall behind or start school behind, whether it is pre-school or first grade, you almost never catch up. It simply does not work well for children,” Paredes said.

Paredes said Texas has to do a better job at strengthening the education pipeline. He said that in Texas today, the three-year completion rate for two-year college courses is about 15 percent while the six-year completion rate is about 35 percent. He said the six-year completion rate for courses at a four-year university is about 59 percent. “We have a lot of work to do. Public and higher education have to work together,” Paredes said.

Paredes said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has developed the 60x30TSX plan over the last 18 months. He said the committee that oversaw its development was chaired by El Paso businessman Woody Hunt, with former UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner as the panel’s vice-chairman. “I think we came up with an extraordinary plan that is getting attention all over the country. It builds on the work that was done in Closing the Gaps, which ran from 2000 to 2015.”

Closing the Gaps

Paredes said Closing the Gaps, which focused on improving educational attainment for minority students, was “enormously successful.” However, he said it was important to put this in perspective.

“Closing the Gaps essentially had the effect of bringing Texas to the middle of the pack among states for overall education attainment. Texas was among the bottom five states. So we had to struggle enormously hard just to get Texas to average. Now Texas is about in the middle of the pack in terms of overall educational achievement. The goal of Closing the Gaps was to make Texas average. The goal of 60x30TX is to position Texas as a national leader in educational attainment,” Paredes said.

Paredes then listed the top achievements of Closing the Gaps. “We have doubled Hispanic and African American enrollment. We have exceeded our goal for Latino enrollments, which I think is pretty remarkable.”

Latino students

Before becoming commissioner for higher education in Texas, Paredes, a native of El Paso, worked in the education arena in California. When he recruited to be commissioner of higher education, Paredes said, his friends told him not to take the job. “They Googled some things, such as Closing the Gaps, and, to a person, said, do not take the job. There is no way Texas is going to achieve these goals, you are going to be the fall guy. Well, we reached our goals and we were particularly successful among Latino students.”

Paredes said Hispanic enrollments have increased by 300,000 since 2000. In fact, he said, Texas had achieved an increase of 125 percent in enrollments, while completions increased by over 150 percent. “Typically, enrollment goes up faster in percentages than completion. We exceeded completions beyond our wildest expectations. I think that shows that when we commit to it we know how to educate poor kids in Texas, particularly Latino students. But, we have to make a commitment. It has to be a priority. Student success has to be the No. 1 goal in Texas,” Paredes said.

Paredes then ran through some population projections. By 2015, the Texas population was 43 percent Hispanic. By 2030, he said, the Texas population will be 52 percent. “Here is a fact that I mention to members of the legislature and the business community all the time. By 2050, Latino workers will outnumber Anglo workers by 3 to 1 in Texas,” Paredes said. Judging by the reaction, this statistic seemed to surprise many in the audience.