Dewhurst talks higher education for 2013 session

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst: Texas needs more qualified graduates; look at incentives necessary

Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday that the state needs to produce more job-ready graduates and qualified workers, something that could require more investment in higher education.

Dewhurst, in an appearance at Texas Christian University, stressed that he wasn't making any specific proposals on higher education in advance of the legislative session that starts in January. But Dewhurst, who presides over the Texas Senate, said he would be working with senators to study education funding, pushing more students into technology-related majors and others in high demand, and giving parents more options when their students' schools are lagging.

"Businesses ... are complaining to me almost daily about the lack of a trained workforce here in Texas," Dewhurst said.

Despite the state's efforts, Dewhurst said, "we're graduating not enough engineers, not enough science majors, not enough math majors, not enough nurses and, yes, not enough teachers. We've got to do a better job.

"Our business people are complaining about not being able to get business or job applicants to pass a high school exam and a drug test."

He says legislators may support tying state funding for colleges and universities to graduation rates or other "outcomes-based" factors. Gov. Rick Perry has suggested connecting 10 percent of an institution's state funding to such factors.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has collected potential metrics from both community colleges and universities on how to distribute outcomes-based funding, board spokesman Dominic Chavez said. The Legislature would have to approve those metrics during its upcoming session, Chavez said.

Dewhurst said incentives in general could be good for the state if they help produce more job-ready college graduates. He also questioned whether some colleges had a "culture" where students were encouraged to take more time — and spend more tuition — than they needed to graduate.

State lawmakers in 2011 cut nearly $1 billion from higher education spending, and schools now face calls to make their degree programs more affordable.

Lawmakers next year also face rising health care costs and a multibillion-dollar deficit. Dewhurst has previously said the state should look at drawing from the Rainy Day Fund for water and road needs.

Dewhurst said he wanted to consider authorizing new tuition revenue bonds for colleges and universities, as well as other possible incentives.

"I am not making any hard proposals today," Dewhurst said. "There are no hard proposals. I'm simply saying that it's my hope that we end up with an attractive funding level for our universities and our community colleges, and in that we have a (bond) package."

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