Increased enrollment demands more support

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The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board released its annual fall enrollment report Wednesday, which detailed the changing number of students enrolling at institutions of higher education in Texas. The report paints a picture of a state that is growing rapidly. According to the report, fall enrollment at Texas colleges and universities increased by more than 62,000 students. Combined with enrollment increases from the previous two years, the number of students who enrolled this year is almost 270,000 more than the number who enrolled in fall 2009. While UT-Austin enrolled a nominally smaller class this fall — 50 fewer freshmen became Longhorns this August than in 2010 — several other system schools saw massive increases. The entering classes at UT-Brownsville and UT-Dallas each ballooned by more than 1,000 students.

The board’s report also notes that enrollment among minority groups is increasing rapidly. African-American and Hispanic enrollment increased by 10 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively. The board highlights these numbers as evidence that higher education institutions are meeting, and in some cases exceeding, the goals set by the Closing the Gaps initiative, which seeks to increase enrollment across the state and improve enrollment among minority groups.

The higher enrollment numbers are therefore a source of optimism. The state is growing, and its educational community is becoming more vibrant and inclusive. But the future success of these larger class sizes is related to much more their decision to enroll. In this regard, the state is failing them. At a time when enrollment is increasing rapidly, state funding for higher education is decreasing. These larger classes will be crammed into the same number of seats in lecture halls and will be taught by the same — and in some cases, fewer — number of faculty members. At the same time, many will be required to pay more in tuition to their various schools.

Larger numbers of students seeking higher education is an undeniably good thing, but the state should support its colleges and universities accordingly.