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Questions and Answers About TexasNextStep

What is 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.

Why does Texas need the TexasNextStep Program?

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. Nothing is more important than education. We 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 also 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.

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 in-district average for each category of college. 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.

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!

Does TexasNextStep cover all costs?

TexasNextStep would guarantee payment of in-district tuition, all required fees and $30 per semester credit hour for textbooks for up to 90 semester credit hours. The textbook component is particularly valuable since textbooks today are costing as much or more than the cost of the coursework.

The program would not cover living expenses or other incidentals, but because there are community and technical colleges throughout this state, students could elect to live at home as a way to control those expenses.

Additionally, students wishing to attend a community college or junior college, but live outside of the taxing district of that community or junior college, would be required to pay the difference between the in-district and out-of-district tuition and fees.

How long does a student have to use TexasNextStep benefits?

Students must enroll within 16 months of high school graduation, so in most cases that means that they must enroll by the fall semester of the year after they receive a high school diploma. Recipients will have three years from the date they begin taking courses to use their benefits and can earn up to 90 semester credit hours leading to a certificate, associate's degree or transfer program leading to a baccalaureate degree, including any additional hours that may be needed for remedial courses.

Where can students use TexasNextStep?

Texas high school graduates can use their TexasNextStep benefits at any public community or technical college or at one of our state's lower-division state colleges (Lamar State College at Port Arthur, Lamar State College at Orange and Lamar Institute of Technology at Beaumont).

What happens if a student drops or fails a course?

A dropped or failed course counts against the 90-hour limit. Available funds from a dropped course would be returned to the state instead of the student. The student would have to meet the college's satisfactory academic performance standards to continue to be eligible for a grant.

How will this program work with the existing TEXAS Grant program?

TexasNextStep and the TEXAS Grant program compliment one another. In fact, in the two-year college arena, TexasNextStep will take over where the TEXAS Grant program leaves off. The TEXAS Grant program provides grants to students at Texas four-year colleges and universities who graduate from high school with the recommended high school program and demonstrate financial need. TexasNextStep will guarantee that every high school graduate who wants to attend a two-year institution, regardless of their high school curriculum or their family finances, has that opportunity. It not only covers in-district tuition and required fees, but it includes an allowance for textbooks. TexasNextStep will primarily address the needs of students attending two-year institutions, and the TEXAS Grant program will provide assistance to students who directly enter a senior college or university, or those who complete an associate's degree at a two-year institution and transfer to a university for their junior and senior year of college.

How will this program work with the existing TEXAS Grant II program?

TexasNextStep can supplement the TEXAS Grant II program, which applies only to students attending a two-year institution, and which pays for in-district tuition and required fees only, by covering textbook costs at $30 per semester credit hour. The TEXAS Grant II program is a relatively small program, funded at less than $5 million per year; TexasNextStep would be funded at $156.2 million in 2008, its first full year of implementation.

Won't TexasNextStep provide an incentive to colleges to raise their tuition and fees?

No. The state would pay institutions for tuition and fees at the statewide weighted average in-district rate per semester credit hour.

Won't the lack of a requirement that a student complete the recommended high school program lower educational standards?

Absolutely not. Beginning in 2004, the recommended program became the standard curriculum for all high school students. In order to select another track, a student and his or her parents must opt out of the recommended program. This proposal does not change that. But, even if some students opt out, those students can still benefit from additional education after high school. To be successful in the workforce, technical training after high school means that a student will be more employable and will earn a higher income. TexasNextStep will provide these students with assistance to achieve success at whatever path they select.

Why not adopt the Georgia HOPE Scholarship model?

The Georgia HOPE Scholarship is designed for four-year institutions only. Almost 54 percent of freshmen who received the Georgia HOPE Scholarship lost the scholarship after the first year. By their senior year, three-fourths of Georgia HOPE Scholarship recipients have lost their eligibility. Among students who lose their HOPE eligibility, 40 percent eventually drop out of college. While the program is well intended, it suggests that many students are entering who are not prepared for college, either for academic or for personal reasons.

Georgia also has the HOPE Grant model, instituted for two-year institutions, that is similar to the TexasNextStep program. Like TexasNextStep, the Georgia HOPE Grant provides for tuition and required fees, as well as a textbook allowance. Like TexasNextStep, it also limits the number of hours a student may take, but does not include the additional three-year time limit in TexasNextStep. The Georgia HOPE Grant can be used at any time after high school graduation, whereas TexasNextStep applies only to students within 16 months of their graduation. In addition, the Georgia HOPE Grant is an entitlement that does not include the TexasNextStep requirement that students use all other federal and state grant aid before qualifying for a grant.

In all, TexasNextStep draws upon the strengths and experiences of a number of programs to build a unique program for Texas that encourages students to attend college and complete the program in a reasonable period of time.

What other advantages does TexasNextStep offer?

TexasNextStep provides students with an opportunity to attend college close to home and avoid the significant costs of moving to another city to attend college, 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. If remediation is needed, community colleges are equipped to meet this need.

TexasNextStep would help hold down the cost of providing facilities for the hundreds of thousands of new students who will enroll in higher education in the coming decades since community colleges have the ability to expand rapidly through the use of shared facilities, often using local school district and other community facilities. And, as stated before, TexasNextStep would address one of the major challenges facing Texas higher education in the 21st Century: the state's student population is growing rapidly in areas of the state where there are relatively few four-year institutions of higher education. The problem is particularly acute in the South Texas/Border region.

Just how successful are community colleges in preparing students for further academic study?

Research consistently shows that community colleges can be an excellent stepping-stone to a four-year university. According to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data, there is little difference in the quality of student performance at universities between transfer students and those who began their studies at the university.

Will TexasNextStep lead to the demise of freshmen and sophomore study at public universities?

No. TexasNextStep is an opportunity for students who want to earn their freshmen and sophomore credits at a community college. Along with distance education programs that offer credits through online instruction, TexasNextStep is just one part of a strategy to accommodate an enrollment increase of nearly 500,000 additional college students from 2000 to 2015. Many students will still want to experience their freshman and sophomore years at a university, and that will continue to be an option.

What role would universities play in TexasNextStep?

Texas public and private universities will continue to be critical to the state's economic development. Many Texas students will elect to directly enter a four-year university, and there are a variety of federal and state financial aid programs available to help those students cope with the higher cost of attending a four-year institution.

But not all students are academically or emotionally prepared to directly enter a public university, and some students require remedial courses in one or more subjects to be successful in a university setting. With cooperation from community and technical colleges, universities can set out basic core requirements that could further ease the transfer process for students who want to go on to pursue a four-year degree.

With TexasNextStep, universities would receive transfer students who have proven their ability to succeed in college. In fact, research consistently demonstrates that students who receive an associate degree at a community or technical college and then transfer to a four-year university are as likely to graduate as students who directly enter a university as a freshman.

How much will TexasNextStep cost?

According to the fiscal note prepared by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in fiscal 2007, TexasNextStep will cost about $133.7 million for the biennium. The estimated cost upon full implementation for fiscal 2008 is $156.2 million.

How many students will take advantage of TexasNextStep?

If TexasNextStep is enacted, it would provide assistance for in-district tuition, required fees and $30 per semester credit hour for textbooks to approximately 65,000 full-time equivalent students in FY 2007; however, since many students would need assistance for only part of the costs of attendance, such as assistance with textbook costs, or would attend less than full-time, the actual number of students assisted could be as high as 100,000 or more.