New report: What is student readiness?

Texas 2036 and the George W. Bush Institute explore student career readiness and its impacts on Texas’ future prosperity in their report “The State of Readiness: Are Texas students prepared for life after high school?” Here is a preview.

Readiness Matters

If Texas were a country, it would rank in the top 10 largest economies in the world. Texas is also the top destination for companies relocating to the United States and leads the nation in job creation. In 2021, Texas added almost 650,000 jobs and gained the most citizens of any state since 2010. 

And word is out. Far more people move into Texas than leave it for other states. In fact, Texas experienced a net migration of 230,961 people from other states between July 2021 and July 2022. 

Given this trajectory, our state’s future seems very bright. But that bright future may not be accessible to everyone.

Today, those who move to Texas are better educated than those who grow up here, making Texas’ children at risk of being left out of the state’s future prosperity and relegated to second-class status behind their out-of-state peers.

To ensure a bright and prosperous future for our children, we must make sure they are ready for what’s next.

Readiness means that a student has the skills and knowledge to succeed in their next step, whether that is the next grade or life after high school. Readiness looks like fourth-graders who can read well enough to access new concepts in science and social studies. It looks like high school students engaged in rigorous career education programs that will prepare them to access college and a career after graduation. It looks like college students who do not require remedial courses and can instead focus immediately on classes required by their academic or workforce program. 

Readiness means choosing your own future

A two- or four-year degree has long been the path to a good job, and that is unlikely to change in the near term. Median earnings generally increase with every level of education. But the workforce landscape is quickly changing, opening new paths to good careers for young people. And attitudes of young people around higher education are shifting as well. 

College is increasingly not the preferred option for large groups of Texas students. Today,  over half of Texans believe that students do not receive a good return on their investment in higher education. Public university and community college enrollment has been flat or down from 2020 levels. There is one notable exception: the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) System, which is focused on career preparation and credentials, has seen enrollment increase 40% over 2019 levels.  

This perception seems to be reflected, at least in part, in the Texas enrollment numbers. In 2020, the pandemic decline in higher education enrollment was twice as high for men (8.29%) as for women (3.44%).

While 2- and 4-year degrees continue to provide access to greater lifetime earnings, schools and states need to offer students multiple pathways to meet their interests and ultimately attain a self-sustaining career. Schools must ensure that students are prepared for whatever path they choose to take after high school. Whether it is enrolling in a 4-year university, entering an apprenticeship, or going to a trade school, a Texas public school student should be empowered to choose whatever path works best for them, with the reading and math skills needed to succeed in college or career.

Texas has a constitutional obligation to prepare students for life after high school 

Texas has a constitutional obligation to provide a public education to all students, grounded in the belief that fostering a well-educated population is “essential to the preservation of liberty and the rights of the people.” This constitutional obligation is encapsulated in the mission of Texas’ public schools: preparing students for life after high school “to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation.” This is commonly referred to as getting students college, career and military ready (CCMR). 

Ensuring the college, career, and military readiness of Texas’ students is spearheaded by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, a collaboration among the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission. House Bill 3767 (2021) requires the Tri-Agency Commissioners to develop goals for “the attainment of employment in jobs that pay a self-sufficient wage for all career education and training programs in the state.” A self-sufficient wage provides enough money to “meet a family’s basic needs while also maintaining self-sufficiency” – in other words, ensuring they are free from needing government assistance.   

To meet this constitutional obligation and provide Texas students with the skills and credentials to earn sufficient wages to support their families after graduation, Texans invest more than $110 billion each year in a pre-Kindergarten to workforce pipeline. This is a significant amount of taxpayer resources committed every year to ensure our children succeed.

Despite the constitutional and statutory obligation to graduate students ready for life after high school – and the significant investment of taxpayer resources in meeting them – 78% of Texas eighth-graders are not achieving college or career milestones within six years of high school graduation.

Read the report and more: