A high school diploma is critical for all Texans to be self-sufficient and provide for their families. In 2015, Texas launched 60x30TX, the state’s strategic higher education plan aimed at ensuring 60 percent of Texan adults between the ages of 25 and 34 earn a postsecondary credential by 2030.
Though 60x30TX aims to make Texas among the highest achieving states in the country, Texas currently comes in last among all states in one critical measure: The percentage of adults with a high school diploma or equivalent.
In 2016, there were an estimated 3.46 million Texans above the age of 18 without this important credential, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means Texas is the lowest performing state in the country for high school credential achievement.
In order to reach the goals of 60x30TX, Texas must invest in the nearly one-fifth of the adult population without a high school credential. But despite this large gap and the stated goals of Texas leading the country in educational attainment, Texas has not kept up in adult education investment.
In 2015, Texas spent 28 cents for every federal dollar provided for adults working toward earning a high school equivalency, making us 44th in the country in state financial support of these adult learners. In comparison, Florida — which ranks second in state matching support — spent over 10 times ($225 million) what Texas spent in 2015 ($22 million). This discrepancy comes even though Florida had about half the number of adults without a high school credential or equivalency that year (1.45 million).
Money matters in education. With the largest population of people without high school credentials coupled with the near-least amount of investment in adult education, Texas has to make significant changes if we expect to reach our 60x30TX goals.
If we want the 3.5 million Texan adults without a high school credential to have postsecondary opportunities, it’s important to consider realistic methods for helping more people secure high school credentials, especially in ways that incentivize continued education.
One realistic way to bridge those without a high school credential to post-secondary education is to allow earning a high score on the state’s high school equivalency exam to count toward the college readiness standard.
Currently, Texans must take and pass a Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA) before enrolling in credit-bearing college courses. Students who take and score well on the SAT, ACT, and/or STAAR exams are exempted from the TSIA, automatically qualifying them as “college ready.” However, the state does not offer TSIA exemptions to students who do exceptionally well on any of the three approved high school equivalency exams. That means that currently, even if a Texan gets a perfect score on the high school equivalency exam, they do not immediately qualify as “ready” for college and would still have to take either the TSIA or the other expensive tests before enrolling in college-level classes.
Pearson, the administrator of the General Education Development (GED®) test, has an existing framework for college readiness based on scores. Out of 200 possible points, a 145 is a passing GED® score. Those who score in the 165-174 range are considered by Pearson to be “college ready.” Scores between 175 and 200 are considered “college ready plus credit”, meaning students exhibit mastery of certain skills taught in college.
Texas could establish a similar framework allowing strong scores on high school equivalency exams to qualify students as college ready, and it wouldn’t be the first in the nation to adopt this practice.
Currently, students in Ohio who score between 165 and 174 on the GED® test may enroll in public colleges and universities with a “remediation-free” status, meaning they don’t have to spend precious time and money taking “remedial” courses that don’t count for credit towards the student’s degree progress.
Other state community college and technical college systems in Georgia, Kentucky Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, and Rhode Island similarly recognize high GED® scores as “college ready”.
By allowing a good score on the high school equivalency exams to qualify for the college readiness standard, Texans would have more incentives to take and do well on the high school equivalency exam and also the ability to pursue a college education with fewer barriers to entry.
In a state that has the highest level of adults without a high school diploma or equivalent, counting good high school equivalency scores for college readiness could open the doors of opportunity to further education for Texans.