Texas is a Model for Making College Affordable, Accessible
by John Cornyn on August 19, 2019 at 12:55 PM
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, and I authored the following Op-Ed in the San Antonio Express-News highlighting the success of Texas’ higher education policies and the need to bring those ideas to the national level.
From a certificate program, to an associate degree, to a bachelor’s and beyond, there’s no question — higher education pays off.
Research consistently shows that as educational attainment increases, so do lifetime earnings. In 2017, workers with a bachelor’s degree earned roughly 65 percent more than those with a high school diploma, and those with a professional degree earned more than two-and-a-half times compared to those who only completed high school.
The barrier standing between many would-be students and higher education isn’t a lack of understanding the value a degree holds. Too often, it’s the price.
At a national level, we must do more to ensure higher education isn’t cost prohibitive and provide more opportunities for students to take advantage of our higher education system. While some policymakers are proposing ideas such as “free college for all,” we know it is impossible to implement at a national level. However, all states can make college more affordable by supporting cost-effective, innovative approaches such as those in Texas.
Initiatives in Texas are reducing the cost barrier for many students and making their dreams of higher education a reality. Following in the footsteps of several other Texas public universities, The University of Texas at Austin recently announced that starting in 2020 it would fully cover the cost of tuition for students whose families earn up to $65,000.
There are other successful programs such as TEXAS Grant, a need-plus-merit program which helps eligible students go to college. There are also community college baccalaureate degree programs, which allow students to earn a low-cost, high-quality bachelor’s degree from certain community colleges.
These initiatives support 60x30TX, the state’s strategic plan for higher education, which aims to increase the number of Texans who hold an affordable certificate or degree and ensure we have a well-trained workforce.
One of the most impactful — and we believe scalable — initiatives is the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate (TAB) Program. It was established in 2014, when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board partnered with South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce to launch an innovative, low-cost bachelor’s degree.
The Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program upends traditional higher education. Traditionally, time is fixed and learning is variable. With the competency-based TAB degrees, learning is fixed and time is variable. Through a combination of online and in-person instruction, credit for work experience, and low-cost tuition structures, TAB programs ultimately save Texas students money and time.
Rather than traditional semesters, the program consists of seven-week enrollment periods. Students can choose the course load that makes sense for them. For both first time and returning students, that flexibility is a game-changer.
More than 3.6 million Texans have attended college but did not receive a degree. Many of those are already balancing a full-time job and family responsibilities — making the prospect of committing the time and money to a degree even more difficult.
Among those individuals is a Fort Worth Police Department detective, who needed a bachelor’s degree to continue growing in his career. When he heard about the TAB criminal justice program offered through Texas A&M University-Commerce, he realized how many doors it could open. “I was all of the sudden facing the prospect of being a captain or chief one day,” he said. “The highest I could have hoped for prior was lieutenant.”
That is the most important part of the TAB Program — it provides new opportunities for Texans of all ages and education levels, and allows them to dream bigger.
In addition to the flexibility this program provides, students are attracted to the price: six of the now 13 TAB programs charge only $750 for each seven-week period, regardless of the number of courses. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates that students potentially save between $13,000 and $23,000 in tuition, and at least two semesters of time.
College can be expensive, time consuming, and the decision to go to school — or back to school — is intimidating. For many students, TAB removes those barriers.
Successful Texas initiatives have long served as a model for other state and federal programs. From our low-regulation and pro-business climate, to initiatives to reduce crime rates and reform the criminal justice system, Texas innovation works.
We think it’s time for others to follow suit and make affordable higher education a reality for all Americans. We have the opportunity and responsibility to open the doors for more people to earn degrees, elevate their careers, and build a workforce that is ready for the 21st century.