Is the Texas government doing enough to help students graduate?

The University of Texas System Board of Regents (BOR) approved a new incentive pay plan for university presidents during the board’s August meeting. The plan would give UT system presidents, including UTSA President Ricardo Romo, a boost in salary. The incentive is tied to student success measured in part by four-year graduation rates. Although increasing university graduation rates are a great incentive, it is an unrealistic goal given Texas’ current education system.

UTSA graduates 15.8 percent of its full time students within four years, according to the Texas Public Higher Education Almanac.  This rate is second from the bottom among the nine UT system schools. UTSA’s Four-Year Graduation Rate Improvement Plan, written in December 2011, outlines a plan to increase the four-year rate to 25 percent by 2021.

This improvement plan may be rooted in good intentions, but it is likely to fail due to the larger issue- the quality of public education in Texas elementary, middle, and high schools. According to the Texas Legislative Budget Board, Texas’ high school graduation rates ranked forty-third nationwide in 2010. Obviously, Texas education is in trouble.

How can any university improve college graduation rates without first improving elementary and secondary education? With a standardized testing system in place many districts have drawn criticism for spending more time preparing kids for statewide exams than for college. 

Texas high school students are ill prepared for higher education because they are taught to take tests rather than to think critically. Therefore, students are far more likely to be unsuccessful.  With 93 percent of UTSA’s incoming freshmen coming from Texas, the majority assumed to have gone to Texas high schools, the larger issue is Texas’ education system, not the university’s failure to meet a graduation goal.

Perhaps the more important question to ask when assessing the UT system graduation rate is not whether the UT system is providing a proper education to its students, but whether Texas is providing  the education children need to succeed.