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Conference highlights higher education reform ideas

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Texas ranks near the top for high school graduation rates according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Iowa had the highest graduation rate at 88%, with Texas in ninth place with an 86% graduation rate.

While the state is graduating more high school students, keeping them in college is proving more difficult. Now state lawmakers are being challenged to create a new higher education reform plan.

At college campuses across the nation time is running out on the fall semester. Students are scrambling, like Anthony Heaven, to prepare for final exams.

"Everybody is rushing trying to get everything done, my whole program everybody is like, are you ready for these last three papers are you ready for our two presentations this week, so it's very intense right now," said Heaven.

The first year higher education administration graduate student wants to develop new ways to improve the classroom. That was also the goal of a class being held at the downtown Hilton by Texas Association of Business.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the featured speaker for this bipartisan study session, is now with a group trying to make the national workforce more competitive.

"Right now the incentives and many of them federal incentives are in the wrong direction," said Spellings.

Texas has increased college enrollment by 50% in the past decade. Enrollment went from a million students in 2000 to 1.5 million last year. That's the good news.

The bad news, however, are reports that within a six year period two out of three students drop out of college. For those who do graduate, having a degree is no guarantee of finding a job.

"And I think lots of times we lose the perspective of the student or the parent, the cost to the kid, going to class taking all these hours and not winding up with any marketable certificate or degree whatsoever is a complete disaster and it's unfair to that child," said Bill Hammond with the business group.

The TAB conference is not expected to create a road map to provide lawmakers with a direct line to education reform but it could provide a few alternate routes.

When the legislative session begins debate is expected on what's called outcome performance. It would shift the state funding formula away from enrollment numbers to graduation rates. The outcome performance model being pitched right now would only target 10% of the funding universities and junior colleges are allocated.

The state of Tennessee has moved to a full outcomes based funding model. One of the other ideas includes reducing tuition costs by offering more online courses.

"It is increasingly too burdensome on middle class families and too many kids are graduating with too much debt and it's not fair," said State Rep. Mark Strama (D) Austin.

Strama is an advocate for increasing the use of technology in the classroom and believes universities are a great place to expand the idea. Other state lawmakers, like Rep. Paul Workman, want incoming college students to be better prepared.

"So I'm really interest in trying to figure out how we go from the public education into higher ed, whether that means a two year associate degree or certificate of some kind," said Workman ( R ) Austin.

If lawmakers are able to pass a higher ed reform plan, fulfilling the promised change may be up to the next generation of educators like Anthony Heaven.

In a move to reform Vo-Tech programs, Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday a new workforce training initiative. The program is designed to fast-track education for people with skills and real-world experience.

The Skilled Workforce Initiative is designed to help people who already have some training and experience, including military veterans and displaced workers. According to Perry, skills will be assessed and students will be award credit for what they already know. The program could cut the time to achieve certification. The first classes in the Austin area will begin in September 2013 at Texas State Technical College campuses in East Williamson County.



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U.S. Dept. of Education H.S. Grad rates


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