• Altheria Caldera, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2021 •
For Texas to expand students’ access to college, the state must remove specific barriers and replace them with supportive structures designed to help all students. This is especially true for some of the state’s historically-marginalized populations: students of color, immigrant students and students from families with limited incomes.
Many expected the Texas 2021 legislative session to focus on higher education. But COVID-19 and other issues (some of which were highly partisan and harmful) dominated legislators’ time and attention, leaving important issues related to robust college preparation and expanded access unaddressed for Texas students.
College preparation includes efforts to ensure that high school students are academically prepared for college success through rigorous and inclusive curricula and student advisement. Senate Bill 1702, by Sen. César J. Blanco, would have restored Algebra 2 as a requirement for the foundational diploma so that high school graduates are prepared for college math and science requirements. IDRA’s Ready Texas study revealed that changes to high school graduation requirements in 2013 led to fewer students taking Algebra 2, which negatively impacts college preparation, access and success (Bojorquez, 2017).
Similarly, SB 1703, also by Sen. Blanco, would have required college readiness counselors to undergo implicit bias training. The goal of this bill was to help ensure that students and families who do not have a history of college education are not tracked into coursework that leaves them unprepared for college (Barnum, 2019).
House Bill 1504, by Rep. Christina Morales, would have permitted students to receive social studies credit for ethnic studies courses, such as Mexican American Studies and African American Studies. This change could have led to a significant expansion of these critical course offerings and more opportunities to build culturally sustaining schools in which all students feel valued.
Though none of these potentially impactful bills passed, SB 1277, by Sen. Royce West, did pass and is a bright spot. This new law requires that school districts designate an academic advisor specifically to assist students enrolled in dual credit courses, helping to ensure that students are better prepared for college coursework.
In addition to strengthening college preparation, it is critical to eliminate barriers to graduation and college access. The legislature passed two such important bills. HB 1603, by Rep. Dan Huberty and Rep. David Spiller, does just that by making individual graduation committees permanent. These school-based committees assess students’ performance in a course using multiple measures and allow hard-working students to graduate even if they do not pass one or two end-of-course exams (Latham Sikes, 2021).
HB 999, by Rep. Diego Bernal, provides critical protection for the many students whose education was disrupted by COVID-19 by allowing them to graduate without having to pass an end-of-course assessment.
In addition to these important steps forward, a harmful bill that would restrict post-secondary access was stopped. SB 1091, by Sen. Brandon Creighton, would have negatively impacted the number of students of color and students from rural communities who attend the state’s top-tier institutions by instituting a 30% cap on the number of students accepted under the Texas Top Ten Percent Plan by any public university. IDRA’s advocacy against this bill helped to highlight the negative impact SB 1091 would have had on historically-marginalized students (Caldera, 2021). (See IDRA’s policy brief, The Texas Top Ten Percent Plan’s Legacy in Supporting Equal Access to College, at https://idra.news/TTP21.)
SB 1709, by Sen. Blanco, was intended to improve outcomes for college students of color by requiring institutions of higher education to create faculty diversity and equity plans. But it did not pass.
Higher education improves life opportunities across a range of factors: income, health, longevity and others. For students of color, the benefits are even more pronounced. Consequently, despite this session’s setbacks, we must continue building on progress made and expanding higher education opportunities for all Texans.
Barnum, M. (November 20, 2019). It’s not just teachers: How counselor diversity matters for students of color. Chalkbeat.
Bojorquez, H. (2017). Ready Texas – A Study of the Implementation of HB5 in Texas and Implications for College Readiness. San Antonio: IDRA.
Caldera, A. (April 28, 2021). Equity Should Be Upheld in Top Ten Percent Plan – IDRA Testimony against SB 1091 presented to the Senate Higher Education Committee. San Antonio: IDRA.
Latham Sikes, C. (March 16, 2021). Individual Graduation Committees Should be a Permanent Option for High School Students, IDRA comments for House Bill 1603 submitted to the Texas House Public Education Committee. San Antonio: IDRA.
Altheria Caldera, Ph.D., is an IDRA Education Policy Fellow. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com.
[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]