Introduction to the Texas Public
University Report Card
The decision to create this annual Texas University Report Card for public universities in Texas was made over 4 years ago when an organization called ScholarShot realized that first-generation, low-income(FGLI) students were struggling to transition from high school students to adults earning at least a livable wage. ScholarShot is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help at-risk students exit poverty by completing career-ready vocational, associate, or bachelor degrees. Scholars are given academic, financial, and social support throughout their time in the program. This process begins during their senior year of high school when ScholarShot meets with hundreds of North Texas FGLI students each year and the support continues through college graduation. The ScholarShot program has above a 90% graduation rate and our Scholars graduate with less than 1/3rd of the average debt of fellow graduates.
Over the ten plus years of ScholarShot’s work with FGLI students, a costly blind spot was exposed which ultimately led to the creation of this Report Card.
This blind spot is our state’s poor performance in transferring our high school graduates from a diploma to a livable wage. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that some post-secondary credential is required – for example a vocational, associate or undergraduate degree – to be employable at a livable wage. Looking at the most recent pool of data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), we see the needle is moving in the wrong direction.
The graphic to the right shows two startling statistics. Firstly, fewer than half of the 355,000 students who graduate from Texas high schools make any attempt at earning a post-secondary credential. Note that this percentage has dropped from 60% attempting in 2008 to 49% attempting in 2018. Secondly, the percentage of students succeeding has also dropped from 33% to less than one third, or 29%. Texas taxpayers invest $150,000 in each K-12 education, which means the return for the $37 billion taxpayers have invested in the 71% not earning anything post high school, is a poverty wage or low employability. Needless to say, these are not satisfactory outcomes for our students, our communities or our state.
The purpose of the Texas University Report Card is to improve post-secondary outcomes for Texas students by sharing best practices used by the universities to better engage and support their FGLI students and challenge those universities making less effort toward the outcome of their students. We recognize that college readiness is largely the responsibility of our K-12 systems, however, if our universities are willing to enroll FGLI students, take their grants and extend them loans, they must also engage in a commitment to maximize their students’ success.
Of the several hundred FGLI students ScholarShot advises each year, listed below are observations that ScholarShot finds are prevailing practices in Texas:
- High School college advisement focuses on class rank and GPA rather than national standards of college readiness, like SAT or ACT scores. The effect is over-matching students to universities where they risk high debt and low rates of success.
- The support systems of our universities predominately rely on students taking the initiative to advocate and intervene for themselves. FGLI students, by and large, have not had the chance to learn this skill and instead respond to challenging circumstances with a “fight, flight, or freeze” mentality.
- Most FGLI students exhibit a high degree of grit and desire to prove themselves, making them vulnerable to poor advisement. Many enroll in universities not knowing the total cost of attendance or their financial gaps after grants and debt.
- Many FGLI students are told to “max out” their debt in order to afford a 4-year institution.
- The majority of our state’s FGLI students, by no fault of their own, are not succeeding in the current state of our public universities.
- Earning a career-ready postsecondary credential is a key step for students from the FGLI population to exit poverty and reach a sustainable wage. With fewer than half attempting, we should push these students to at least earn a vocational certificate.
The final item above is an achievable objective for the majority of our FGLI students, and one desperately needed for the growing demands of our workforce. This is the primary objective of the Texas Public University Report Card.
ScholarShot acknowledges that the number of FGLI students it advises are a fraction of the roughly 200,000 FGLI students graduating from high schools each year in Texas. While ScholarShot believes its small sample of FGLI students represent the overall FGLI population, there are always exceptions. ScholarShot also acknowledges that the measures making up the Report Card do not represent all the interactions or outcomes at all of the public universities. ScholarShot contends, however, that the Report Card represents a new standard by which to measure and assess how well our public universities engage, or not, our FGLI students with the intent of them succeeding in earning a degree.
 According to the USBLS, 99% of the jobs created since the 2009 recession required a post-secondary credential.
The failure of our education system to transition First-Generation Low-Income(FGLI) students from high school to career is a costly blind spot for everyone involved including students, tax-paying citizens, public school districts, and higher education institutions.
Based on 2021-2022 data from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), 60.6% of students graduating from Texas public high schools identified as economically disadvantaged. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) reports that 51% of students enrolled in our public colleges and universities are economically disadvantaged. Successfully making this transition through college means exiting poverty with the ability to earn at least a livable wage. Failing this transition, however, means we return most of these deserving students back to a life of poverty or worse. The lack of transitional support for this population means that as many as 7 out of 10 FGLI students enrolling in postsecondary institutions in Texas drop out.
Today’s workforce requires some postsecondary credential to achieve a sustainable wage. That means, when this population drops out, we are accepting a poverty wage in return for our K–12 investment. And worse, we block these students from reaching their potential. The high rate of FGLI dropouts works against our better interests as well as the better interest of statewide initiatives such as TX60X30, whose goal was to have 60% of our Texas high school graduates with some postsecondary credential by year 2030. They recently changed the goal to include all 25–34-year-olds who live in Texas, making it easier to achieve, but making it less impactful. It is important that we continue to track the population of native Texans who are achieving some postsecondary credential rather than including Texas transplants. By tracking native Texans’ credentials, we can hold our secondary and higher ed public schools accountable. TX60X30 reports our current population, ages 25-34, with an associate degree or higher is 43.6%. Recent reports, however, show only 29% of our Texas high school graduates earn any post-secondary credential.
This blind spot of our failure to transfer deserving students from high school to sustainable wage occurs because of systemic failings in three key areas, each with a significant impact on FGLI students. As always, there are exceptions, but in general:
- Our High Schools – Our high schools tend to over-match FGLI students to universities where they are academically, socially and/or financially unprepared. While this feels good and makes the high school system look good, it is not in the best interest of our students. Additionally, fewer than half (only 49%) of our statewide high school graduates attempt any post-secondary credential. We should be advising students to at least earn a vocational certificate which will more than double their high school wage and rebuild our depleted workforce.
- Our Universities – Our universities lack sufficient resources and supports to engage FGLI students so that they are successful in earning degrees. Instead, the majority of FGLI students drop out. Our universities readily accept these students and their public funding, but too many FGLI students drop out with debt and no degree.
- Our Public Policy – Many of our public policies for higher education are access oriented, such as the Texas top 10% rule, which gives students in the top 10% of the high school class automatic entry into certain public universities. Lesser known is the top 25% rule, which requires certain universities to accept the top 25% of students. While well-meaning, these rules assure a large number of students, including many who are FGLI, are enrolled in universities not knowing they are unprepared, underfunded, or both.
Based on these failings, ScholarShot began working on the Texas University Report Card in the Summer of 2019 which was first published in January of 2020. Our methodology is to present quantitative data based on data from the U.S. Department of Education and qualitative data from our Best Practices survey. We have followed a similar model over the past 3 years, adjusting the survey questions to dig deeper into the schools’ policies and programs for FGLI students.
Last year and this year, schools had the opportunity to explain their answers to each measure in order to gather more information about the best practices being used by each school. While this information cannot be used for grading purposes due to the subjectivity of the responses, it has given us more opportunity to expand our survey questions and share more specific best practices in the future. Some of this year’s survey questions were reconstructed to ensure that all relevant information was obtained from the universities and that the questions were clearly constructed for consistent interpretation.
The fourth annual Report Card was created with the same three objectives in mind:
- To encourage all Texas universities to share and improve their practices around supporting FGLI students. FGLI students are more than half of students enrolling in universities and the majority of the students receiving public funding. Both our workforce and our FGLI students desperately need these degrees.
- To inform and encourage advisors, parents, and students to consider schools that are graded higher at engaging FGLI students to and through graduation and consider carefully when recommending those that grade lower.
- To motivate our state legislators, who fund over $350 million per year in the TEXAS Grant (over $1 billion when combined with the federal Pell grant and loans), to alter their model of distribution from school demand to school performance.
This year, just like last year, we are encouraging all universities to schedule a review with ScholarShot once the Report Card is published. This review will go over how the school performed on the Report Card and will offer specific recommendations that will enhance graduation performance for their FGLI students.
If the Report Card is heeded by Texas high schools and public universities, we could see tremendous results for both FGLI students and Texas at large. On this note, the BAIN Inspire Group shows the 6-year graduation rate for recipients of the TEXAS Grant (public university grant) at 54%, which returns a negative eight (-8%) ROI. If we can improve the graduation rate to 65%, the TEXAS Grant returns a positive 12% (+12%) ROI, a respectable return. Our state legislators and taxpayers, for many reasons, should particularly want to improve the degree completion rate and deliver a positive return on this public investment.
The Report Card lists, in ranking order, the public universities in Texas that have performed in the A-B range on engaging and getting results with FGLI students on an A-F scale. There are two pages to the Report Card: a Summary page and a Category Detail page. Online users can sort by column, region, or grade, or select one or more of the universities to compare here. We expect most users will want to focus on the Category Detail page to select and compare schools based on one or more of the Categories. In addition to the Report Card, in the section titled Best Practices, we highlight specific practices that Texas universities are implementing to achieve better outcomes for our FGLI students.
 See TEA Enrollment in Texas Public Schools 2021-22, page 11, showing 60.6% of Texas public school students economically disadvantaged.
 THECB 2021 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, page 13.
 IBID, pages 27 – 89.
 IBID, page 6.
 Visit 60x30tx.com or texas2036.org for more information
 IBID to 5
 BAIN Inspire study for ScholarShot produced December 17, 2018.