Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Republican candidate for governor of the state of Texas, says he aims to expand existing programs to lighten college students’ financial burdens.
“My plan does several things,” Abbott said at the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s editorial board meeting, which the Apache Pow Wow was invited to participate in. “We’ve got to get kids better educations, and I have a variety of plans to achieve that.”
Abbott’s four-part plan involves reforms at all levels of public education, and focuses on community colleges in particular.
“Right now, over 19,000 high school students are making a 3 or above in their AP (Advanced Placement) courses,” he said. “Part of my plan would be enforced on high schools, making a law that AP courses making a 3 or above would count for college credits. That adds up to $1,000 in savings per course for low-income families.”
TJC already has a similar program, though somewhat more demanding.
“That, I think, will be really interesting,” said Sarah Van Cleef, vice president of Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer. “It’s not just one test. It’s a whole year of work. I looked at what we have, and several of our programs require a 4 or even a 5, like Spanish. Many of ours require a 3, though. It will be interesting to see what discussion comes from 4-year institutions. It’s putting us all on the same playing field.”
Abbott’s policy is also concerned with education beyond a two-year degree.
“One problem that’s costing a lot of money is that students will take community college courses, and find out that a lot of their course credits are non-transferable,” Abbott said. “We should have a law to change that.”
TJC is already ahead of the curve in this area as well.
“It’s different with transfers at private schools,” said Dr. Mike Metke, president of TJC. “We already do a good number of those.”
The third part of Abbott’s plan involves education beyond brick-and-mortar classrooms.
“I’d want to expand the role of advanced online learning,” Abbott said. “At the University of Texas, online courses cost about $1,400 less per semester, and that means real money in cost savings.”
This portion of his plan would not affect TJC greatly.
“We do have online courses and online degree programs,” Ms. Van Cleef said. “We’re batting average, probably. I think we’re ahead in that we have online degree programs, and you can take some online and some face-to-face courses. I know that at some colleges, it has to be all one or all the other. I think this is geared more toward transfer institutions.”
Other portions of Abbott’s plan would hold four-year colleges accountable for outcome-based funding, establish block scheduling, and increase the Hazelwood financial exemption for families of military veterans.
“I think it’s great to hold us all accountable to the same outcomes,” Ms. Van Cleef said. “About 10 percent of our state funding is outcome based, whether it’s on graduations, or a number of hours, and so on.
“As far as block scheduling, many of our students at two-year institutions are working part time. I don’t know if we call it ‘block scheduling,’ but we do try to have a set of core classes in the morning, a set in the afternoon, and a set in the evening, for if a student works a morning or afternoon job. We’re trying to pull that schedule together right now.
“And as for the Hazelwood exemption, spouses and dependent receive up to 150 semester credit hours with no money from the state. As of the middle of August, we exempt over $800 K, and anticipate that this number alone will hit $1 million by next year. It’s a phenomenal service, and Greg Abbott’s saying ‘It’s great, we need to keep it.’ A lot of his plan is expanding programs that already exist.”
Abbott’s Democratic opponent, State Sen. Wendy Davis, also has a plan to reform higher education.
According to an article by Press Secretary Rebecca Acuña published Aug 27 on wendydavistexas.com, Sen. Davis’ plan involves “Opportunities to get students and adults the technical training they need, make financial aid more available and college costs more transparent, create programs that encourage students to complete their degree, and renew the state’s efforts to create more Tier One universities.”
Measures already exist to connect college education with technical training.
“I struggle with that one a little bit, because it will be another layer for us all to go through,” Ms. Van Cleeft said. “The board of planning is already working with businesses and industries, so I think two coordinating boards… there’s a lot of middle man there.”
Another part of Sen. Davis’ plan would attempt to increase the number of teachers by requiring automatic college admission to the top 20 percent of high school classes if they intend to pursue a career in teaching.
“Wow. That would be a little more difficult to get implemented,” Ms. Van Cleef said. “They’re just promising automatic admission, but not saying they’d fund it. I just find it interesting how we’d do that. It seems to me that Abbott’s plan overall seems more tangible and more achievable. Abbott’s plan mostly expands what we already have that’s working. Her plan would be more costly to implement than his. I’m excited, though, that both candidates are talking about public education, and putting it at the forefront for discussion.”
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