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TexasNextStep:
The Comptroller's Proposal
Making K-14 Education the Norm in Texas

(SB 722; HB 1521; HB 1450, 79th Legislature)
March 2005

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Questions and Answers About TexasNextStep

TexasNextStep is a program, first proposed by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in May 2002, that would offer all Texas high school graduates the opportunity to attend two years of college at any public community college, technical college or two-year institution designated by the Legislature with the state picking up the tab for tuition, fees and books.


Rationale

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by the year 2030, nearly 60 percent of all Texans will have only a high school diploma or less. Comptroller Strayhorn believes that is unacceptable and it is up to us to prove it wrong! In this decade, 25 percent of our state's new jobs will require a BA degree at a minimum. Texas must have an educated workforce for the 21st Century. This generation must compete not only with those from New York and California, but Europe and Asia as well. We must provide our students with the skills needed to succeed in the 21st Century, and the leadership in the state must remain committed to providing lifetime learning and excellence in our workforce training programs to make this happen.

TexasNextStep will make K-14 education the norm, and it will set Texas apart in the race for future jobs. It addresses two of the major challenges facing Texas higher education in the 21st Century: the state's rapid student population growth in areas of the state where there are relatively few four-year institutions of higher education, and the ever-increasing cost of college attendance. At a time when some young Texans believe that a college education is out of their reach, TexasNextStep would provide all young Texans with access to a college education.

By providing state funding for the first two years at a community or technical college, many students would be able to attend college while living at home and avoid the significant costs involved with moving to another city to attend college and living either off-campus or in a dormitory. Also, community colleges offer courses at flexible times, allowing students to work and attend college at the same time. And, while this proposal is not touted as a dropout prevention program, the Comptroller believes that students would be deterred from dropping out if they knew they had the opportunity to go on to college when they graduated from high school.

From the state's perspective, TexasNextStep provides the most efficient way for the state to encourage students to pursue a college education. Tuition and fees at two-year institutions are a bargain for the state, and the legislation would control costs further by requiring that tuition and fees be set at the statewide average for in-district tuition and fees for each category of college.

As a fiscal conservative and a common sense conservative, Comptroller Strayhorn would rather spend $2,500 a year educating a young Texan, than $16,000 a year incarcerating that young Texan!


How It Works

TexasNextStep would offer all Texas high school graduates the opportunity to complete up to two years' work (a maximum of 90 semester credit hours) in a three-year period at any public community college, technical college, or two-year institution designated by the Legislature. The state would pay for tuition, required fees and $30 per semester credit hour for textbooks, to every student who enrolls within 16 months of high school graduation, after federal and state gift aid is deducted.

Students would use these benefits to either obtain an associate's degree or a technical certificate. Once they have completed the program, students would be ready to either enter the work force directly, or continue their education by transferring to a senior-level institution to attain a baccalaureate or higher degree.

In order to enroll in TexasNextStep, a high school graduate would apply to the public community or technical college or other public lower-division institution of their choice. Students would complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and any Pell Grant or other federal or state grant and scholarship aid, including a Texas Grant II, for which the student may be eligible. Proceeds from federal or state financial assistance would be applied to the cost of tuition, required fees and textbooks at $30 per semester credit hour. TexasNextStep would make up the difference; in the case of students who do not qualify for federal or state financial assistance, TexasNextStep would pay the full amount.


Benefits of TexasNextStep

The greatest benefits of TexasNextStep are that the program will make K-14 education the norm in Texas, and take a vital "next step" in insuring that Texas has the best-educated workforce in the nation. TexasNextStep addresses the state's major challenges of rapid student population growth and the rising cost of college attendance.

The state's student population is growing rapidly in areas of the state where there are relatively few four-year institutions of higher education, a problem that is particularly acute in areas of South Texas. This proposal would take advantage of one of the strengths of community colleges -- their ability to locate and expand rapidly through the use of shared facilities, often using local school district of community facilities -- and would help to hold down the cost of providing facilities for the hundreds of thousands of new students who will enroll in Texas colleges and universities in the coming decades.

TexasNextStep would help the state to meet college enrollment goals, set out in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's (THECB's) Closing the Gaps report. THECB has reported that Hispanic enrollment is lagging behind enrollment goals set for 2005 in its Closing the Gaps report; TexasNextStep could help realize these goals. About 62 percent of Hispanics who attend college go to two-year colleges, and two-year colleges have a higher percentage of Hispanics in their population than four-year institutions, 30.4 percent compared with 21.1 percent. TexasNextStep would open the doors to college for many first generation college-goers and make the dream of higher education a reality.

TexasNextStep would benefit students by helping hold down the rapidly increasing cost of college attendance. By providing state funding for the first two years at a community or technical college, many students would be able to attend college while living at home and avoid the significant costs involved with moving to another city to attend college and living either off-campus or in a dormitory. Also, community colleges offer courses at flexible times, allowing students to work and attend college at the same time.

Finally, in Texas, nearly 25 percent of the state's residents aged 25 and older lack a high school diploma. Each year, another 45,000 to 50,000 students drop out of Texas public schools, costing the state $11.4 billion in lost gross state product (GSP). In addition to the lost economic output, the state and federal governments also must pay dropouts higher amounts for public assistance and incarceration, compared to high school graduates. TexasNextStep is not touted as a dropout prevention program, but the Comptroller believes that the prospect of a fully funded opportunity to attend college for two years at any public community college, technical college or two-year institution designated by the Legislature could act as a powerful deterrent to students who may otherwise drop out before high school graduation.