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Texas tackles lower college enrollment amid loss of higher ed confidence

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Roz Brown

(Texas News Service) Americans' confidence in major U.S. institutions - including higher education - has fallen in recent years, and Texas is trying to win it back.

About 66,000 fewer Texas students enrolled at colleges and universities in Fall 2022 than before the COVID-19 pandemic. One theory is that an increase in high-paying jobs has left many Texans wondering if a college degree is worth the cost.

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Harrison Keller, commissioner and chief executive at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said the country's needs have changed - and institutions need to adapt.

"This is a time in American history when the design of most of these institutions doesn't align very well with the needs of our workforce and the needs of our population," he said, "so there's a disconnect there."

recent Gallup poll showed Americans' confidence in higher education has dropped to 36 percent, sharply lower than 57 percent in 2015. It also found confidence in 16 other institutions has fallen in recent years. But as the economy continues to change, Keller contended that more jobs will require credentials beyond a high school diploma.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is promoting a strategic plan - "Building A Talent Strong Texas" - to address how the state is investing in community colleges and structuring new financial-aid opportunities.

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Keller said he believes that, going forward, people must be prepared to rescale and upscale their job skills.

"Over the course of someone's career, they may cycle in and out of higher education, and pick up additional kinds of training and certificates, and skills," he said. "Some of this you do online, and some of it you do in person."

Keller cited a report from the Texas Workforce Commission that showed about 90 percent of new jobs will require education and training beyond high school.

"So, the question shouldn't be whether you should go to college," he said. "The question should be, 'What sort of college should you go to?'"

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.