Top 5 Higher Education Takeaways from the 87th Texas Legislature Regular Session
During our first legislative session “on the ground” in Texas, The Education Trust actively partnered within the Texas Postsecondary Advocates Coalition for Equity (TX PACE) to advance a shared policy vision for higher education, including access, affordability, completion supports, student civic engagement and workforce opportunity. Here is a high-level recap of what the 87th Texas legislature did (and didn’t do) to advance equity in higher education:
Directed more state funding to four-year institutions and left community college finance for the interim:
Referring to higher education as “the tip of the spear” for the state’s economic recovery, legislators increased the higher education budget to $8.6 billion, a $486 million dollar increase from the previous biennium that includes an additional $110 million for state financial aid programs. This increase is expected to benefit four-year and medical colleges, whereas community colleges will contend with funding challenges from steep enrollment declines. An interim Texas Commission on Community College Finance established by SB 1230 will begin its work this fall and make final recommendations by November 2022. Meanwhile, three rounds of federal Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) funds totaling more than $6 billion should provide much-needed financial assistance to Texas students and institutions alike. Ed Trust partnered to support student advocacy related to the state budget and accessing federal emergency aid.
Authorized plans and strategies in pursuit of Texas 60x30 goals:
Legislators passed bills that align with the statewide goal to have 60% of Texans aged 25-34 complete a degree or certificate by year 2030. The Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Program established by SB 1102 aims to prepare students for high-demand jobs through institutional grants in each region of the state. Longer term, both HB 1247 and HB 3767 direct the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Workforce Commission to develop shared workforce development frameworks, plans for data sharing and goals, including employment in jobs that pay a “self-sufficient” wage.
Improved data sharing to increase transparency and improve student support:
Transparency and coordinated support are essential tools to ensure that postsecondary opportunities lead to social mobility. School districts, higher education institutions and workforce entities will be able to more easily share data to proactively advise students on their college and career journeys as a result of SB 788. And the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will now collect and report statewide data on student loan debt broken out by race, ethnicity, gender, degree type and enrollment status (SB 1019). Ed Trust advocated with partners in support of these bills to help students have access to the best information and opportunities available.
Defended key equity protections for higher education access:
Despite attempts to restrict access to Texas colleges and universities, lawmakers rejected attempts to weaken the Top Ten Percent Plan granting automatic admission to state universities for students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class. Legislation to remove in-state tuition for undocumented students also failed to gain traction this session. Ed Trust advocated alongside a growing number of advocates who recognize that expanding college access and success benefits all Texans. At the federal level, Ed Trust also successfully advocated for federal emergency aid be made available to all students.
Failed to pass legislation that would support student success:
Access to higher education without the support to successfully complete is a path to nowhere. During a time in which marginalized students face unprecedented challenges, lawmakers failed to pass legislation to meaningfully meet their academic and non-academic needs. HB 2030, which would have created a new outcomes-based grant program focused on improving enrollment and completion for students of low-income backgrounds, did not make it across the finish line. Intended to address food insecurity, HB 2126 would have expanded SNAP benefits to working college students but never made it out of committee. And despite being passed by both chambers, Governor Abbott vetoed SB 36, which would have addressed hazing offenses and established a diverse and collaborative taskforce to study access to student mental health services. Ed Trust, alongside partners within and outside of Texas PACE, advocated for these bills and will continue to push for them in the special session and interim.
We are grateful and proud to partner alongside so many Texas students and organizations committed to achieving education equity and justice. We look forward to continuing our work together into the interim and special session.
Check out our top 5 takeaways in P-12 education from the regular session.