After delivering the commencement address for the LBJ School of Public Affairs, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro talked with The Daily Texan about some of the issues surrounding higher education today. Castro declined to comment on media reports about his possible nomination to President Barack Obama's cabinet. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
DT: What do you think are the most important issues facing higher education today?
Castro: Some of the most important issues facing higher education really have to with the affordability of it. Over the last couple decades, we’ve seen the cost to students skyrocket – student loan debt increased significantly. So I’d say affordability. Secondly, college completion – ensuring that as much as we celebrate folks getting into college, it’s really completing college that makes a difference. Universities and colleges across the United States ought to be working to get much better at their completion rate, not just their matriculation rate.
DT: What do you think the solution is to making college more affordable?
Castro: I would say that making college more affordable begins with ensuring that less folks have to take remedial courses. So many of our young people have to take remedial courses that it ends up extending the time they are in higher education. It means they spin their wheels in a sense. So No. 1 is improving K-12 education and synching it better with needs of colleges and universities. Secondly, for universities to look at ways that they can offer degree programs more that are still as substantive as they need to be but also perhaps accelerated or involve less credit hours, so that students can rack up less debt.
DT: What do you think about the Texas Dream Act, which offers in-state tuition to some undocumented students?
Castro: I support the Texas Dream Act. It was passed in 2001 with bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature. These dreamers are young people who only know the United States as their home. And they are, for all intents and purposes, Texans. They have grown up here. This is the state that they know, and they feel like Texans just like the rest of us. They deserve an opportunity. And so I support the in-state tuition.
DT: The University has been involved in a major affirmative action court case. What is your take on that?
Castro: My hope is that some ability to ensure that folks, whether through obstacles that they face or to ensure that we have diversity in our university settings, that the Supreme Court will strike a good a balance and ensure that diversity is still a concern.