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Prepare Texas Students to Succeed in College


Education is the primary engine of modern economic growth, making it imperative that all Texas high school students be prepared for university coursework. Texas should encourage preparation for college by awarding automatic admission to state universities only to students who complete the recommended high school curriculum or a more challenging one. Texas also should help its institutions of higher education prepare more students for college by allowing them to grant charters under the state’s charter school law.


Ensuring that more students attend and complete college is an important requirement for Texas’ continuing prosperity. A Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts study issued in 2000 found that Texans with a bachelor’s degree had mean annual salaries more than twice as high as those of Texans with a high school diploma only.[1] The same study found that Texas enjoys an annual economic gain of $17.8 billion from productivity increases associated with higher education.[2]

Unfortunately, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), “only 5 percent of the Texas population was enrolled in higher education in recent years, compared to a national average of 5.4 percent.” California, with a similar demographic makeup, enrolls 6 percent of its population in higher education. THECB notes that “Texas would have to enroll immediately 200,000 more students to reach California’s participation rate.” Texas Hispanics and African Americans participate at even lower rates—3.7 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. According to THECB, if current demographic trends continue and higher education participation rates do not increase, only 4.6 percent of Texans will be enrolled in higher education by 2015.[3]

Texas high school students can graduate after completing minimum, recommended or advanced high school programs. The minimum program requires 22 course credits, while the recommended and advanced programs require 24. THECB research indicates that the rigor of high school studies correlates well with success in college. Students completing a weaker curriculum are less likely to enroll in higher education, pass college entrance exams or stay in college once enrolled, and tend to have lower grade-point averages in college.[4] It is clear that students completing the minimum high school program are at a significant disadvantage for succeeding in the post-secondary studies that could greatly enhance their career and earnings prospects.

Top 10 percent law

Texas high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes are guaranteed admission into the state’s public universities. At present, however, these students are not required to pursue a curriculum that prepares them adequately for college work. A bill introduced in the 2001 legislative session would have required high school students to complete the state’s recommended or advanced high school programs to qualify for automatic admission under the top 10 percent law.[5] The bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House Higher Education Committee.

The 2001 Legislature did pass legislation recommended by THECB making the recommended high school curriculum the “default” curriculum for high school students, beginning with those entering ninth grade in the 2004-05 school year. To take the less-rigorous minimum high school program, high school students must obtain the approval of their parents and a school counselor or administrator.[6] In other words, students must explicitly opt out of the recommended program to take less rigorous courses.

Students who complete the less-difficult minimum curriculum, however, are still eligible for automatic admission to Texas state universities.[7] This creates an incentive for students to take the minimum program, which is not designed to prepare them for success in college.

Higher education and charter schools

THECB, in its 2000 report Closing the Gaps, made a series of recommendations to increase the number of Texas high school graduates who move on to college. Among these were proposals to encourage institutions of higher education to become more involved in preparing students for college.[8] Texas’ charter school law could be amended to help Texas’ colleges and universities achieve this goal.

Charter schools are public schools granted a significant degree of autonomy in areas such as curriculum and educational emphasis in exchange for a similar degree of accountability for favorable results. The 1995 Texas Legislature authorized the formation of charter schools to give schoolchildren and their parents greater choice and to improve all public schools by establishing competition among educational providers.

Research indicates, however, that the benefits of competition become apparent only when parents can choose freely among a number of convenient educational options.[9] One economist has noted that the voucher program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and charter schools in Michigan and Arizona are the only programs in which “choice schools can, legally, garner a large enough share of enrollment to provide a non-negligible amount of competition for the regular public schools.”[10] Texas does not have enough educational options to provide such competition, and the Texas charter law is rated 19th-strongest among those of 38 states ranked by the Center for Education Reform.[11]

Most charter schools in Texas operate under charters issued by the State Board of Education (SBOE). From 1995 to 2001, the number of charter schools in Texas rose rapidly, stretching SBOE’s and the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA’s) abilities to oversee them. This fact, combined with the highly publicized failures of a handful of charter schools, led the 2001 Legislature to limit the number of charters that can be issued in Texas.[12]

While it was clear that the ability of TEA and SBOE to monitor the state’s charter schools was overtaxed and some limits were needed, the new restrictions have restricted competition among schools and choices for students and parents. School districts also can issue charters, offering an alternative to SBOE’s process, but the requirements for obtaining such a charter are so demanding that only a handful have been created in Texas.

Charter authority in other states

Other states have avoided similar problems by creating multiple chartering authorities, providing for an expansion of choice without placing excessive oversight responsibilities on any one organization. Entities that can grant charters in other states, in addition to state education agencies or boards, include universities and units of local government.[13] Recently passed legislation in Indiana, for example, allows local school boards, state universities and the mayor of Indianapolis to grant charters. Minnesota allows local school boards, public and private colleges, and school district cooperatives to issue charters. Arizona has a separate state board for charter schools that acts as a chartering agency; local school boards and the state board of education can charter schools as well.[14]

Michigan has a particularly successful charter school program and allows its universities to grant charters. As of November 2001, Michigan universities and community colleges had granted 151 of the state’s 186 charters.[15] To cover the costs of administration and oversight, each university receives 3 percent of the state per-student funding the charter schools receive. The universities use this money to maintain charter offices, and some have used excess funds to assist charter schools. For example, some universities are using their fund balances to help charter schools meet the costs of student testing required by federal law.[16] Allowing institutions of higher education to grant charters, as Michigan and some other states do, gives the higher education community an additional way to help prepare students for college work.

Research shows that competition from “choice” schools in Michigan, Arizona and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has improved the performance of public schools. When enough choice schools are available to compete for students, public schools have responded by improving student achievement.[17] In Michigan, for example, public school districts have reacted to competition by establishing theme schools and academies, expanding kindergarten and after-school programs, creating programs to teach employment skills and forming centers for gifted and talented students.[18] In other words, public schools have responded to competition by trying harder to meet the demands of their customers—children and their parents.


A. Section 51.803 (a) of the Texas Education Code should be amended to require Texas high school students seeking to qualify for automatic admission to Texas public universities to complete the recommended or advanced high school curriculum and graduate in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes.

Students who opt out of the recommended curriculum for a less demanding one should not be rewarded with automatic admission at the expense of students who complete a more difficult college preparatory curriculum.

B. Chapter 12 of the Texas Education Code should be amended to allow the governing boards of universities and junior colleges to issue charters that do not count against the current cap on the number of charters allowed in Texas.

This would provide greater public school choice for Texas students and parents without increasing the oversight burdens of TEA or SBOE. It also would provide an avenue to help prepare more students for college through increased involvement by universities and junior colleges in K-12 education. To cover their administrative expenses, institutions that grant charters should be allowed to keep up to 3 percent of the state funds flowing to charter schools.

Fiscal Impact

These recommendations would require no additional resources from the state or local school districts. The Legislative Budget Board estimated that Senate Bill 974 from the 2001 Legislature, which would have implemented a policy identical to Recommendation A, would have no fiscal impact on state or local governments.

Charter schools receive less per-student funding than traditional public schools; an increase in the number of children attending charter schools, therefore, should not result in any additional costs to the state. Institutions of higher education would be allowed to retain up to 3 percent of the per student allotment for charter schools to cover all costs associated with the program, including employee salaries and benefits. No increased state expenditure should result.

School districts that lose students to new charter schools would lose revenue but also would have to educate fewer students. Any net cost cannot be estimated since it would depend on future decisions that cannot be predicted.


[1]Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Special Report: The Impact of the State Higher Education System on the Texas Economy (Austin, Texas, December 2000), p. 11.

[2]Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Special Report: The Impact of the State Higher Education System on the Texas Economy, p. 19.

[3]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan (Austin, Texas, October 2000), pp. 8-9.

[4]Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Report on Alternative Admissions Criteria Study (Austin, Texas, October 2000), (last visited March 18, 2002); and e-mail from James Dilling, program director, Participation and Success, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Austin, Texas, January 29, 2002.

[5]Tex. S.B. 974, 77th Leg., R.S. (2001).

[6]Tex. Educ. Code § 28.025(b).

[7]Tex. Educ. Code § 51.803.

[8]Tex. Higher Education Coordinating Board, Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan.

[9]Caroline M. Hoxby, “Markets and Schooling: The Effects of Competition from Private Schools, Competition Among Public Schools and Teachers’ Unions on Elementary and Secondary Schooling,” Proceedings of the National Tax Association (1995), pp. 129-30, (Last visited March 19, 2002).

[10]Caroline M. Hoxby, “How School Choice Affects the Achievement of Public School Students,” paper prepared for the Koret Task Force Meeting (Stanford, California, September 2001), p. 2, (Last visited March 19, 2002).

[11]The Center for Education Reform, Charter School Legislation: Profile of Texas’ Charter School Law (Washington, D.C., October 2001), (Last visited March 19, 2002).

[12]Tex. H.B. 6, 77th Leg., R.S. (2001).

[13]The Center for Education Reform, Charter School Laws: State by State Rankings and Profiles (Washington, D.C., October 2001), (Last visited March 19, 2002).

[14]The Center for Education Reform, Charter School Laws and Profiles (Washington, D.C., October 2001), (Last visited March 19, 2002).

[15]Michigan Association for Public School Academies, “Frequently Asked Questions,” (Last visited April 1, 2002).

[16]Telephone interview with Dan Quisenberry, president, Michigan Association of Public School Academies, May 7, 2002.

[17]Caroline M Hoxby, “How School Choice Affects the Achievement of Public School Students,” pp. 4-14.

[18]Mackinac Center for Public Policy, The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts, by Matthew Ladner and Matthew Brouillette (Midland, Michigan, August 2000).