Total university enrollment in Texas for fall 2020 dropped 3% compared to the previous year, officials said, with public two-year colleges being the hardest hit. Applications for federal student aid this year are also down 3% from 2019, with only a 17% completion rate among high school seniors.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most significant disruption to Texas higher education since the end of the second world war,” Commissioner of Texas Higher Education Harrison Keller said during a conference call with media Dec. 1 to announce a new initiative.
The THECB has partnered with several institutions, such as Get Schooled, United For College Success, CollegeForward and Texas OnCourse, to launch Future Focused TX, a campaign to provide more resources for students as well as for high school counselors who help with college applications.
Keller said the decline in post-secondary education will especially affect low-income students, Hispanic and Black students, and students in rural communities who are historically underrepresented in higher education institutions.
“Our vision is that all students, especially African American, Latino, and low-income students, will graduate high school and go on to earn a college degree or workforce certificate, enabling them to maximize their potential and earn a livable wage,” Educate Texas Executive Director John Fitzpatrick said during the call.
Texas public schools had 354,312 seniors enrolled during the 2019-20 school year, but with the majority of students attending school virtually, officials and school counselors had to find new ways to communicate with them about college plans.
“College access information needs to be presented in a way that breaks through the noise and is able to sort of communicate clearly and [crisply] to the students and families,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Future Focused TX campaign offers students one-on-one support with virtual advisers as well as targeted emails and texts with tips and reminders on upcoming deadlines. Counselors also have access to resources such as weekly activities to do with students and monthly webinars.
According to Fitzpatrick, over 700 counselors and college access professionals have opted in to use the campaign’s resources.
The campaign also created a virtual advising project, a chatbot known as ADVi. Jerel Booker, assistant commissioner for college readiness & success, said the chatbot is funded by the advising corps and the state of Texas.
“ADVi is a critical component of the Future Focus TX effort," Booker said. "This direct link to students helps us communicate with them directly, responding reactively to students who reach out with a question while also being proactive, where we are able to note students regularly to provide support reminders and resources.”
The project was launched in October and is already in contact with over 100,000 seniors.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had an incredibly serious impact on our Texas college enrollment rate and on our very taxed high school counselors and college access professionals, but we and our partners are committed to reversing this trend,” Keller said.
To learn more about the initiative, visit www.edtx.org/txcan/future-focused-tx