60X30TX Refresh

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has been charged with updating 60x30TX, the state’s long-term strategic plan on higher education. Texas 2036 submitted the following public comments to inform this work, with a focus on the following areas: aligning state and local efforts; achieving equitable outcomes; holistically considering and including all available postsecondary opportunities in Texas; and increasing the focus on Texas’ in-state postsecondary pipeline.

Texas 2036 Comments Regarding the Revision of the State Long-range Master Plan for Higher Education

The Governor’s charge to refresh the state’s 60x30TX plan comes at a critical juncture for higher education: Never before has a certificate, credential, or degree been so essential for a student’s future career success. By 2036, it is expected that 71% of jobs in Texas will require this level of postsecondary education.[1]

But as data has shown, and state leaders have learned, not all postsecondary programs are created equal, and state policies must be cognizant of these differential outcomes. Measuring the value of postsecondary credentials has become more complex as the needs of the workforce have evolved. As an example, credentials typically associated with high social value but low-wage fields, such as liberal arts degrees, have actually been found to provide both economic value and mobility.[2]

As underrepresented students tend to pursue these degrees, while also providing important societal benefits through fields such as education and social work, it is clear that we must adapt our understanding of what postsecondary success means.  Focusing on credentials with proven workforce value, looking at the taxpayer and student returns on financial, time, and societal investments, and ensuring equitable pathways to living wage jobs will be critical as our state builds its long-term higher education plans.

Building on the Governor’s leadership with the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, the legislature passed HB 3767 (87-R), the Texas Education and Workforce Alignment Act. In addition to formalizing the Tri-Agency’s vital work, this law calls for a “whole-of-government” approach to ensuring that all agencies involved in the state’s workforce pipeline work together and create common goals and strategies. Updating the 60×30 goals is an early and important step in updating the state’s overall workforce planning process.

As you complete this important task, we ask that you consider the following:

  1. Ensure that the revised 60x30TX plan aligns closely with related career preparation plans adopted by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
    • HB 3767 requires a new integrated and comprehensive approach to align state and local initiatives on PK-12, higher education, and workforce improvement. Its framework will be crucial in securing a long-term educated workforce, and the revised 60x30TX plan will be one of the first and most consequential foundations for that comprehensive framework.
  2. Achieve equitable outcomes for all postsecondary students by targeting resources and leveraging existing mechanisms, including higher education formulas.
    • Underrepresented student populations were already falling behind in key metrics prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) proposed focus on ensuring that all postsecondary students have the opportunity to attain equitable outcomes must leverage existing efforts, such as the Commission on Community College Finance and the THECB’s Formula Advisory Committees, so that resources are targeted quickly and appropriately.
  3. Holistically consider and include all postsecondary credentials available to students in Texas as counting toward 60x30TX goals.
    • Duration, cost, and inflexibility limit higher education accessibility for some Texans who may be interested in pursuing a credential. Work-based and online private credentials and apprenticeships are already being pursued by some Texas students because of their flexibility and alignment with the workforce. The revised 60x30TX plan should consider how these options could help with the progression of goals and strategies.
  1. Increase focus on Texas’ in-state pipeline of postsecondary completion.
    • There is currently a heavy dependence on the migration of educated individuals to attain an educated population. This stream, however, is difficult to affect with state and local policy interventions, particularly those within 60x30TX. To meet our goals, a strong, consistent stream of postsecondary graduates is necessary. Continued focus on Texas’ in-state postsecondary opportunities would help achieve these goals.

Texas’ long-range higher education strategic plan, 60x30TX, continues to represent a bold charge by state government, higher education institutions, and key stakeholders to improve the state’s postsecondary education environment for the betterment of Texans’ lives and livelihoods. It is heartening that we are sustaining levels of progress across almost all existing 60x30TX goals.

The data, however, simultaneously shows that some key progress metrics have significantly stalled, most notably in the 60×30 Educated Population and Completion goals.[3]In fact, Texas began experiencing this slowing[4]before the COVID-19 pandemic and has since reached a point where certain progress rates are well-below what is needed to meet our 2030 goals. This is why the success of the 60x30TX plan requires a reconsideration of the original goals and strategies.

Already, the THECB has proposed some positive changes to the plan. The current proposal will consider the roles of innovation and research, adult learners beyond 25-34 years old, high-value credentials for the workforce, and equitable attainment. These areas of focus should help us meet the original 60x30TX goals while further bolstering the higher education benefits that the 60x30TX plan always aimed to deliver — but we must continue to be ambitious in this work, focusing on maximizing diverse pathways to living wage job attainment for students that graduate from Texas high schools.

Ensure that the revised 60x30TX plan aligns closely with related career preparation plans adopted by the Texas Education Agency and Texas Workforce Commission.

Governor Abbott’s establishment of the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative in 2016 was the first major attempt to break down education and workforce training and funding silos and to better align PK-12, higher education, and the workforce. HB 3767 formalizes the working partnership between the TEA, THECB, and TWC and adds a new comprehensive planning requirement.

Texas 2036 strongly recommends that the THECB remain consistent in its revisions of the 60x30TX plan with the relevant legislative charges of HB 3767.

HB 3767 will identify state workforce development goals and strategies, including goals that will provide Texans and their families with jobs that have a self-sufficient wage. It will evaluate career and education training programs throughout Texas and align those with actual, current workforce needs. This revision of 60x30TX provides the THECB a valuable opportunity to incorporate useful milestones and measures of program effectiveness and student pathways to career success that can and should be carried into other Tri-Agency plans.

Achieve equitable outcomes for all postsecondary students by targeting resources and leveraging existing mechanisms, including higher education formulas.

We have high hurdles to clear to achieve equitable outcomes. Data shows that only 32% of Texas high schoolers successfully complete a higher education program and obtain a credential within six years of graduation.[5]Outcomes are starker upon diving into demographics, with data showing that average annual completion rates[6]by African American, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students fall far short of those needed to meet 2030 goals.

As it seeks to ensure that all students can equitably attain all 60x30TX goals, the THECB should review and identify strategic options to target federal, state, and local resources, including through existing mechanisms.

HB 3’s (86-R) historic and timely investments, much of which prioritize the delivery of equitable outcomes, represent a pragmatic starting point. The THECB should take advantage of these substantial resources to strengthen the PK-12-to-postsecondary pipeline, beginning with strategies that pursue a partnership with TEA to strengthen the rigor of assessments. STAAR results revealed the massive learning loss borne from COVID-19, and gave the state a roadmap that allowed for a pivot towards high-quality interventions that will begin to address this generational backslide[7].

Likewise, end-of-course (EOC) exams and other high-quality assessments are a strong tool to ensure that high school students are ready for postsecondary success. The benefits are at least two-fold, as both high school and postsecondary instructors would have better a measure of a student’s strengths and needs, while also more accurately identifying where to focus interventions. Postsecondary-ready students are necessary to meet 60x30TX goals, so it would be prudent to consider options that achieve that outcome.

It is also important that high school students are ready to navigate the postsecondary environment. While 60x30TX touches on advising at the postsecondary level, high school advising serves as a student’s first “real look” into higher education.

Choosing a major, securing financial aid, and even holding students accountable in high school, advisors can help build a student’s resilience before they set off on their own. As such, high-quality guidance is a necessary support, and a 60x30TX strategy recognizing that would also help with producing postsecondary-ready students.

Another opportunity is SB 1230 (87-R), by Senator Larry Taylor and Representative Leo Pacheco, which established the Texas Commission on Community College Finance and emphasized funding outcomes in alignment with state postsecondary goals. Community colleges serve the largest sector of higher education students in Texas, a sector that is also diverse.[8]

Texas 2036 believes that aligning community college funding incentives would achieve better outcomes for their students, and doing so would improve progress towards several 60x30TX goals. Specifically, there is a need for greater focus on the Student Success Point formulas. The wide array of outcomes incentivized by these formulas is not fully aligned with each other or with the current goals of 60x30TX. A refresh of the Student Success Point formulas to align more closely with revised 60x30TX goals will enhance outcomes.

Additionally, the THECB biennially convenes its Formula Advisory Committees (FAC) to provide recommendations on formula funding for all public higher education institutions. It would be efficient to align 60x30TX revisions with the FAC’s work on the THECB Commissioner’s charges, and vice versa. This is especially true given that the FAC’s recommendations are considered every biennium by the legislature.

Ensuring that 60x30TX revisions for equitable attainment leverages systematic changes across all postsecondary opportunities would be practical, efficient, and wide-reaching.

Holistically consider and include all postsecondary credentials available to students in Texas as counting toward 60x30TX goals.

We must not be apprehensive about pioneering higher education delivery to our ever-changing populace and workforce. Completion of associate and bachelor’s degrees in Texas continue to rise while traditional certificates have fallen,[9]but in 2017, the first-year annual earnings of graduates with certificates actually surpassed those with associate degrees and came within almost $6,000 of those with bachelor’s degrees.[10]Meanwhile, an increasing number of private certificate programs are being launched, some offered in conjunction with Texas public institutions and some accessed directly by students and job seekers. The increasing intricacy of types of credentials makes for a complex set of options for Texans with a variety of needs.

Texas 2036 recommends that the THECB incorporate all postsecondary credential opportunities in Texas, including those that are not issued by Texas institutions of higher education, in its expanded data gathering and reporting on workforce success in Texas. This would provide a comprehensive and complete view of the postsecondary landscape in Texas, and provide useful insights into best practices for achieving all 60x30TX goals, including those in its current proposal.

The flexibility of pursuing a credential other than a degree is multifold, ranging from cost and access to industry alignment, all of which are factors considered by modern-day postsecondary students. Indeed, these considerations are not simply on whether to pursue a certain credential, but also whether to even pursue a credential at all. This is despite Americans recognizing the value of postsecondary education, even amidst the pandemic.[11]

In order to be responsive to these considerations, 60x30TX revisions must look at all available opportunities for postsecondary credentials in Texas. For instance, work-based and online private credentials and apprenticeships can provide latitude to postsecondary students, particularly those seeking to reskill or upskill.

Business leaders, such as Google, have pioneered career-ready credentials that can help students access high-paying jobs with only minimal investments of time and money — far faster and less expensive than traditional higher education. Likewise, apprenticeship programs have been growing, serving a notable and diverse population throughout the country.

Additionally, there are 20,122 active apprentices in Texas, while 2,271 apprentices completed their programs in 2020.[12]These are ready additions to our state’s educated workforce, and this progress should be considered by 60x30TX.

Failure to incorporate privately-issued certificates and credentials into the state’s planning process risks creating a blind spot in a rapidly changing economy that is seeing new pressures for upskilling and reskilling of workers at all ages. Including these credentials would greatly increase Texas’ ability to achieve its targets for credential attainment, and it would also measure the progress in serving adult workers, another goal of the 60x30TX revisions.

Increase support and resources for Texas’ in-state pipeline of postsecondary graduates.

As originally structured, the overarching 60×30 Educated Population goal significantly relies on the migration of credential holders into Texas. Data in this area has historically exhibited our dependency on migration to achieve an educated workforce, with migrants being more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher than Texas’ general population.[13]More specifically, there are about two times as many migrants with a bachelor’s degree or higher than Texas’ incumbent workforce.[14]

Texas 2036 supports a greater focus on Texas’ in-state pipeline of postsecondary graduates, to ensure that migration — a positive for our state — does not mask the performance of our local postsecondary pipeline. To reach our long-term equity and outcomes goals, we need to continue to foster the migration of highly-educated talent to our state, but we should not create metrics to gage our own success that treat products of other states’ education systems as our own achievements.

Moreover, we encourage the establishment of specific targets for all types of degree and certificate programs as well as the total aggregate number of credentials needed to reach the 60×30 Educated Population goal.

The THECB’s current proposal moves in this direction, particularly with its focus on Texas higher education institutions. It is important that the proposed new goals and strategies intentionally provide necessary support and resources to our institutions, as well as other postsecondary opportunities. These investments will lead to long-term boons for our state, both in our postsecondary infrastructure and workforce.

The revision of the 60x30TX plan is a momentous opportunity leading up to Texas’ bicentennial, and beyond. Texas 2036 applauds the THECB in its work to pursue the best paths forward to improve the higher education and workforce development landscapes in Texas. We appreciate the opportunity to present our data-driven comments and recommendations, and, for the pursuit of a better Texas, stand ready to be a thoughtful and collaborative partner in these efforts.

[1]Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. (March 2020). Custom Projection for Texas 2036.

[2]Postsecondary Value Commission. (May 2021). Equitable Value: Promoting Economic Mobility and Social Justice through Postsecondary Education. https://www.postsecondaryvalue.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/PVC-Final-Report-FINAL-7.2.pdf

[3]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2021). 60x30TX Progress Report. Austin, TX.

[4]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2019). 60x30TX Progress Report. Austin, TX.

[5]Percentage of Class of 2011 high school graduates who earned a certificate or degree from a higher education institution within six years of high school graduation; includes Level 1 and Level 2 certificates, two-year degrees, and four-year degrees. Texas Education Agency, Texas Academic Performance Report, 2017-18 State Postsecondary Outcomes Summary. https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/cgi/sas/broker?_service=marykay&_debug=0&single=N&batch=N&app=PUBLIC&ptype=H&_program=perfrept.perfmast.sas&level=state&search=distnum&namenum=&prgopt=2019/tapr/ ps_outcomes_sum.sas.

[6]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2021). 60x30TX Progress Report. Austin, TX.

[7]Emily Donaldson. Dallas Morning News. (June 23, 2021). Texas braces for bad STAAR results that are ‘every bit as problematic as we thought’. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2021/06/23/texas-braces-for-bad-staar-results-that-are-every-bit-as-problematic-as-we-thought/.

[8]Texas Association of Community Colleges. (2020). Community College Fact Sheet. https://tacc.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/fact_sheet_11.2020_1.pdf.

[9]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2021). 60x30TX Progress Report. Austin, TX.

[10]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2020). Texas Public Higher Education Almanac. Austin, TX.

[11]Tamara Hiler. Third Way. (December 17, 2020). How COVID-19 Made Higher Education Value a Top Priority. https://www.thirdway.org/memo/how-covid-19-made-higher-education-value-a-top-priority.

[12]Department of Labor. Data and Statistics. (2020). Registered Apprenticeship National Results Fiscal Year 2020, 10/01/2019 to 9/30/2020. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/apprenticeship/about/statistics/2020.

[13]  Pia Orrenius. Alexander T. Abraham. Stephanie Gullo. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. (2018). Gone to Texas: Migration Vital to Growth in the Lone Star State. https://www.dallasfed.org/~/media/documents/research/swe/2018/swe1801b.pdf.

[14]Aim Hire Texas. (February 2021). Aim Hire Texas Workforce Issues, Initial Findings. https://texas2036.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/AHT-Initial-Findings.pdf.