Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes expressed serious reservations Wednesday about the expansion of courses that allow students to take courses for which they receive high school and college credit simultaneously.
Paredes suggested that students who are not prepared for the classes are being placed in them anyhow, amid the rush to get them early college credit. About 150,000 Texas high school students are taking such dual-credit courses, but only 110,000 students in the state have met college readiness standards in both English and math on the SAT, ACT or Texas Success Initiative tests, he said.
“That’s 40,000 over the numbers we have data for that are demonstrably college-ready,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “We need to consider whether we’ve expanded too quickly and whether we’ve compromised the integrity of these courses.”
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, of which Paredes is the chief executive, is conducting a study of dual-credit programs that is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The agency’s preliminary conclusion is that the programs were working “quite well” until 2015, but expansion since then has raised concerns, he said.
The commissioner’s definition of college readiness isn’t the same one that school districts use for dual-credit enrollment. School districts are allowing students who meet, say, just the English standard to take a dual-credit course in that field but not in math, and vice versa. Paredes said dual-credit students should be college-ready in both English and math.
On the other hand, students who want to take a dual-credit course in a career or technical field — such as agriculture and food — that could lead to a certificate don’t have to be college-ready, said Kelly Carper Polden, a coordinating board spokeswoman.
The Austin school district, like many in Central Texas and across the state, offers dual-credit courses, including at six high schools with early-college programs.
In his wide-ranging discussion with reporters, Paredes also said thousands of students in Texas who were brought to this country illegally as children deserve a solution to their uncertain status.
“I think we need to find an equitable solution to the circumstances of these young people, and I consider them to be an important state and national resource,” Paredes said.
His remarks came a day after two developments involving such so-called Dreamers: President Donald Trump suggested that an immigration deal resolving their status could be reached by his administration and Congress, and a federal judge in California ordered the administration to resume shielding those young immigrants from deportation.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Barack Obama established in 2012, gives such young immigrants a chance to attend college and work legally in the United States. Texas has roughly 25,000 undocumented students, and Paredes estimated that about 80 percent, or 20,000, fall into the DACA category.
On other matters, Paredes:
• Touted the state’s progress in reducing students’ accumulation of excess credits en route to a college degree. Average credits for college graduates in 2016 stood at 138, down from 140 two years earlier. That two-credit difference works out to a statewide savings of $76 million, and it also cuts down on student debt.
• Predicted that “it’s going to be a scramble” for a special House-Senate panel to come up with recommendations for overhauling a broad category of higher education funding that includes startup funds for new academic programs and long-standing initiatives, such as the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Formerly known as special items, the category is now known as nonformula funding, meaning that it is not driven by enrollment-based calculations.
• Touted higher graduation rates, increases in Hispanic enrollment and an ongoing initiative that he hopes will result in a dozen schools offering bachelor’s degree programs for about $15,000, less than half the average cost.