By Governor Rick Perry
Recently, we received the great news that the number of Texas students taking the SAT has soared over the last five years, especially among minority students.
Statistics released last week show a 42 percent increase among African-American students and a 65 percent increase among Hispanic students. More than ever before, Texas students from all backgrounds are dreaming of going to college, and are taking active steps to get there.
This is quite a turnaround for Texas. In 2000, we had a smaller percentage of students going to college than any of the other 10 most populous states. To reverse this trend, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted a strategic plan called Closing the Gaps by 2015, which challenged our higher education institutions to increase enrollment by 500,000 in 15 years.
By 2005, this plan was working so well that we moved the goalposts back further, increasing the target number to 630,000 by 2015.
As interest in pursuing a college degree is increasing, state officials have to do everything we can to remove the roadblocks and enable students to pursue their dreams.
That's why I'm calling for a four-year tuition freeze for incoming freshmen, so that the amount students pay when they first arrive on campus will be locked in through what should be their senior year.
Not only will this help students and their families predict and plan for the cost of their college careers, it will also provide a powerful incentive to complete degrees on time.
Currently, less than 30 percent of students at Texas' four-year institutions graduate within four years. In fact, only 58 percent get their degrees in six.
Clearly, this system can - and must - be improved.
For this reason, I'm also proposing we link a portion of each university's funding to the number of students that graduate.
Under the existing formula, state funding is based primarily upon the number of students who enroll in the university. This number is important, but it's not the complete story. Under my proposal, 10 percent of the school's funding will be tied to how many of those students are actually receiving degrees.
Simply put, if a school fails to graduate students, it'll eventually cost it some funding.
This will encourage universities to do everything they can to help their students complete their degrees and graduate in a timely fashion, saving both the student - and ultimately the university - time and money.
Along those lines, we must do more to give students a clearer picture of how much is at stake when it comes to graduating on time. One way to do this is by requiring universities to break down the costs and inform students of the price tag for graduating in four years, compared to five or six.
In the 2011 State of the State address, I challenged our universities to develop bachelor's degree programs that cost no more than $10,000. My challenge gained national attention, and while some shook their heads and said it couldn't be done, others simply went to work.
Already, nine institutions have announced programs to meet that challenge, and others will soon be added to the list.
These measures will make college more affordable and will meet the growing demand for higher education in a way that encourages students to complete their degrees on time.
While the average Texas college student graduates with less debt than the national average, now is the time to take steps to prevent us from moving further up that chart.
To meet the growing demand for higher education in Texas, we must give our students affordable and predictable options, and reduce the debt that they carry with them as they start their careers.
This opinion editorial originally ran in the San Angelo Standard Times.