Study finds troubling rate of university matriculation

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A new study shows four out of five eighth-grade students in Texas will not go on to complete college degrees after high school graduation.

The Houston Endowment foundation collaborated with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems to conduct a study which found that only one in five eighth-graders enrolled in Texas public schools earned postsecondary education credentials within six years of their expected high school graduation date.

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said despite the study’s
results, the state needs its students to complete their post-secondary education.

“We have a long way to go if we’re going to have the type of economy that will keep Texas competitive,” Chavez said. “Future jobs require higher levels of education, and we have to make sure that students in our education pipelines are actually making it through high school and completing their degrees and goals.”

The study focused on the educational trajectory of public school students in Texas who started eighth grade in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Eleven years after their eighth grade year, only 19.9 percent of students had earned a bachelor’s degree, associate degree or certificate, according to the report.

Chavez said THECB and the Texas Education Agency have been working together on a couple of initiatives to inspire middle and high school students to attend college and prepare them for a higher education.

“These efforts are trying to reach down into high schools and middle schools to create a culture of being college and career ready,” Chavez said. “We hope it will inspire students that postsecondary education is what you‘ll need to be successful.”

With the plan to increase students’ interest in college, THECB and TEA hope to increase the University’s 52 percent four-year graduation rate.

“Even though the graduation rate can be improved, when you take UT out of the equation, there are other Texas universities with graduation rates far below these numbers,” Chavez said. “However, we still have a long way to go to improve the entire education pipeline.”

Lisa Valdez, First-Year Experience program coordinator, said middle and high school students visiting UT have a chance to see that attending college is right for them.

“It’s more about showing them that all students have the opportunity to come to the University and tell them the opportunities they have here on campus,” Valdez said.

Valdez said the First-year Interest Groups, or FIGs, help freshmen have a successful first semester that will motivate them to continue and complete their college education.

“We know if students can find their place here on campus and have a great first year, we can retain them in the long term,” Chavez said. Journalism freshman Kiera Dieter, who worked hard to get into the University despite financial and personal setbacks, said the study’s grim findings can be improved by the University’s efforts to reach out to these students.

Dieter, who dealt with alcoholic parents throughout middle school and high school, said she was inspired to do her best in school because she wanted do something with her life, and feels middle school students need to be told how important college is for their future.

“Junior and high school students should be inspired to be great no matter where they have come from and will try hard to achieve success,” Dieter said.