PolitiFact: Most Texas high school graduates don’t get college degrees

Dec 10, 2017
Tom Luce: “Only 20 percent of our current graduates from Texas high schools go ahead and achieve either a national certificate or a community college degree — or a college degree.”

Tom Luce, the Dallas lawyer long associated with Ross Perot and the landmark 1984 overhaul of state education laws, recently declared that few Texas students succeed in formal schooling past high school.

Luce, the lead witness at a November hearing of the Texas House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, said: “Here are the facts: Only 20 percent of our current graduates from Texas high schools go ahead and achieve either a national certificate or a community college degree — or a college degree. Now stop and think about that: Just 20 percent of our youngsters achieve one of those three credentials.” Luce said the state should be at 80 percent instead.

That 20 percent figure sounded familiar. In March 2016, the state’s commissioner of higher education, Raymund Paredes, told lawmakers that just 20 percent of Texas eighth-graders earn a college degree or other advanced certificate within 11 years (or six years after high school). That conclusion tied to a research approach initially laid out in a February 2012 report commissioned by the Houston Endowment stating that researchers conducted a “cohort analysis” of every student who started eighth grade in a Texas public school in 1996, 1997, and 1998 and tracking their progress over 11 years.

Luce told us he got his figure from that same longitudinal research posted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Luce also provided a document headlined “Given current trajectory, Texas at risk for decreasing educational attainment.” The document states that 20.9 percent of the state’s eighth-graders in 2005 later earned a certificate or degree from a Texas college or university within six years after high school graduation — with achievement rates varying by ethnicity and economic status.

A Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board staff spokeswoman, Kelly Carper Polden, pointed us to a page in the agency’s Texas Public Higher Education Almanac indicating that by 2016, of every 100 students enrolled in eighth grade in fall 2005, 74 had graduated from a public high school, 54 had enrolled in higher education in the state and 21 had received a Texas higher education degree or certificate within six years of leaving high school. Of the 21, the almanac says, one student received a certificate, four received an associate degree and 15 received a bachelor’s degree or more.

Polden also told us that 27 percent of eighth-graders in fall 2005 who went on to graduate from high school had completed a Texas college degree or certificate by 2016.

We recognized, though, that the provided percentages don’t take into account post-high chool achievements outside Texas. Polden said the almanac figures do not include such students “because we don’t consistently have that data.”

We wondered how to account for students ultimately earning certificates or college degrees out of state. According to a February 2017 board document, about 5 percent of Texas high school graduates in recent years enrolled the subsequent fall at an out-of-state college.

David Gardner, the board’s deputy commissioner for academic planning and policy, estimated that at least 30 percent of all high school graduates who were in eighth grade in fall 2005 have since earned a post-high-school degree or certificate. Gardner said too that many students have accumulated college credit but not yet landed a degree.

John Wyatt at the agency emailed us a pie chart indicating an additional 3 percent of high school graduates had completed a degree or certificate out of state by 2016.

We also used Texas Education Agency data to generate a report showing that 24 percent of the state’s 2008-09 high school graduates had earned a Texas community college or four-year college degree by 2015-16:

We circled back to Luce, who said by phone that if 27 percent of high school graduates got a Texas college degree or certificate within six years of graduation, that’s “still a problem.”

Our ruling:

Luce said: “Only 20 percent of our current graduates from Texas high schools go ahead and achieve either a national certificate or a community college degree — or a college degree.”

This claim has an element of a truth in that a minority of Texas high school graduates shortly earn college degrees or other certificates.

But Luce’s 20 percent figure is incomplete and inaccurate. Notably, it’s limited to students landing degrees in Texas only, leaving out students who attended college out of state. In contrast, we found that about 30 percent of high school graduates landed a college degree or other post-high-school certificate within six years of graduation — which leaves Luce’s percentage off by 50 percent.

We rate Luce’s statement Mostly False.