By COMMISSIONER HARRISON KELLER, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
More than two years after COVID-19 began to disrupt our lives and livelihoods, Texas is moving forward. Our state’s economy has come roaring back, and our thriving business climate continues to be an asset and point of pride. Our population also continues to grow, attracting talented individuals from across the nation and around the world.
Texas colleges and universities have mostly recovered from the impacts of the pandemic, which caused the most significant disruptions to their operations since World War II. Today, university enrollments are higher than in 2019.
Yet, most community college enrollments have remained down, especially because their enrollments tend to track closely with local labor markets. When unemployment goes up, more people tend to enroll in local colleges. When unemployment falls, community college enrollments usually drop.
While we’re fortunate our diverse economy and growing population have helped accelerate the pace of economic recovery for our great state, it’s important to acknowledge things haven’t really gotten back to our old normal, because we didn’t move backwards. Across the state, Texans kept moving forward, and the new normal we’re experiencing is just different from what we knew and how we lived pre-pandemic.
One of the most significant differences is the pace of change in our economy. Trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation accelerated faster than anyone anticipated. Texas has more jobs today than pre-pandemic, and the vast majority of those jobs require education beyond high school. It’s now much harder to get a good job and advance in your career without a degree, certificate, skilled apprenticeship, or other credential beyond a high school diploma.
Today, Texas ranks as the world’s ninth largest economy. The strength of our economy increasingly depends on knowledge, information, and technology, and our competitive position increasingly relies on how we develop Texas talent. We need to provide opportunities for more Texans to acquire the education and credentials good jobs require.
Seeing these changes afoot, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has been working with employers, higher education leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders to update the state’s higher education goals. In January, the board of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the updated state plan, which we’re calling Building a Talent Strong Texas. The plan will serve as the primary roadmap for Texas higher education through 2030.