The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, during its quarterly meeting on July 29, conducted a major policy discussion on prospective cost efficiencies for higher education. The group heard primarily from a panel of four presenters, representing a larger committee charged with formulating a list of specific policy recommendations. A report is due November 1, leading up to the Regular Session of the Legislature, which convenes in January. Background information on the panel's responsibility is included at the conclusion of this post.
An obvious undercurrent of the discussion is the looming budget shortfall facing lawmakers, now estimated to be as high as $18 billion for the next biennium. The panelists focused on short-term and long-term alternatives.
Representing two-year colleges was Richard Rhodes, president of El Paso Community College, and chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges.
Of particular interest to community college faculty members is the proposal to reward colleges for student advancement along stipulated "Momentum Points," such as successful completion of semester hour and developmental education thresholds, transfers to universities, and various degree and certification milestones. As reported here frequently, Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes and the Coordinating Board have proposed that ten percent of the funding for community colleges be determined by these Momentum Points.
Regarding such incentives, instructors are concerned about grade inflation and a potential threat to academic standards if colleges are rewarded financially for passing and graduating more students.
Dr. Rhodes expressed general support for financial incentives, but urged the board to move carefully on the Momentum Points approach. He said a number of "unintended consequences" could arise in such a plan if it is not considered with ample deliberation. Coordinating Board chair Fred Heldenfels agreed that many times the "devil is in the details," and lots of work remains on the concept.
Another noteworthy subject arising out of the discussion is the possibility of entrance standards for Texas community colleges, particularly for "adult" students who could presumably be served better in a revised and enhanced Adult Basic Education environment. Many of these students do not possess the verbal and computational skills to advance through developmental education courses at two-year schools. "They need jobs," said Commissioner Paredes, who has suggested previously that these students should be in ABE. (These programs are funded through the Texas Education Agency, using a combination of state and federal funds, with local institutions providing additional resources, such as facilities. As a category, ABE students are not included in contact hour enrollment for community college funding purposes.)
Dr. Rhodes expressed concern that these individuals may not have anywhere else to go if turned away by their local community college, since ABE is not designed or funded adequately to handle those who need it. "If not community colleges," Dr. Rhodes asked, "then whom?" Commissioner Paredes responded that ABE would have to be modified in its role, funding, and scope.
Below is the background and official Coordinating Board summary of the duties of the committee charged with examining efficiencies in Texas higher education.
In fall 2009, Governor Rick Perry issued Executive Order RP73, relating to a comprehensive review of higher education cost efficiencies. The Executive Order charges the Coordinating Board to work in cooperation with Texas institutions of higher education to undertake a broad and comprehensive review of system-wide opportunities for achieving cost efficiencies, including but not limited to reviewing state funding based in part on student course completion; considering ways of restructuring the state’s financial aid programs; consolidating academic programs and/or eliminating low-producing programs; and considering such aspects of higher education as faculty workload, transfer agreements between two- and four-year institutions, costs of textbooks, and alternatives to creating new campuses through such practices as distance learning. The Coordinating Board must have its final recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature by November 1, 2010.
As a result of the Governor’s Executive Order, the Coordinating Board arranged an Advisory Committee on Higher Education Cost Efficiencies, a 20-person policy committee comprised of 10 higher education leaders and 10 business leaders who have been meeting monthly since December 3, 2009. The committee has been reviewing information and reports, and considering preliminary recommendations according to the mandates included in the Executive Order. Committee meetings have been held at the Coordinating Board and have included presentations by experts on various topics of interest to the committee. Meetings have been open to the public and webcast. Meeting materials and presentations are available online at: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/acce. Webcasts are available on the Coordinating Board’s “Events” website at: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/apps/Events/.
Representatives of the Advisory Committee will provide information regarding preliminary recommendations and will be available to answer questions. Scheduled members are: Woody Hunt, Chairman, Texas Governor’s Business Council; Raymund Messer, President and Chairman, Walter Moore and Associates, Inc.; Richard Rhodes, President, El Paso Community College; and Jesse Rogers, President, Midwestern State University.