Director's Letter

Howdy, Advocates, and welcome to the post-runoff edition of our newsletter. The spring has been very busy around The Association, and it’s been great to connect with so many current and former students during Aggie Ring Day, the Spring Game, Muster, Commencement, Reunions, and at The Next Tradition. I was also privileged to lead the planning effort for one of the Advocacy Network's marquee events: Aggies on the Hill – our biennial trip to Capitol Hill.
In this edition of the newsletter, you will receive a brief summary of the most recent runoff elections – which resolved who would be the major parties' nominees in the fall. Of note, there were three former students competing in this stage, and two of these candidates won their runoff elections: Cody Harris ’06 (R-State House District 8) and Brad Buckley ’93 (R-State House District 54).  
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also recently released its “Almanac” highlighting progress towards the goals of the 60x30TX plan. The university’s government relations staff is also busy at work on the formulation of the Legislative Appropriations Request. This process will help the legislative committees in Austin understand Texas A&M’s state-related funding priorities in 2019 and 2020.
At the federal level, the window is quickly closing on the potential for any major legislative action before election season begins in earnest this summer. While the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act seems stalled in the Senate, the U.S. House continues to press forward with its deliberations. In some positive news, recent national polling indicates that the perceptions of higher education may be changing. These trends – if they continue – should bode well for our legislative interests in both Austin and Washington, D.C. 
As always, The Association of Former Students and the university appreciate your interest in these issues and great support for the cause of higher education. Many thanks to the new Strategic Engagement Intern, Addie Skinner '18, for her help in completing this newsletter. Whoop!
Thanks and gig ’em,

Dave Fujimoto ’17
Director of Strategic Engagement

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Election Update

Texas voters went to the polls (again) on the 22nd of May to decide some unfinished business – to vote in “runoff” elections and send their party’s nominees forward to compete in the general election. Runoff elections are held when a single candidate does not reach a 50% threshold during their original primary race. We’d like to congratulate all of our former students who are seeking public office on making it through this round of elections, and wish them the best of luck in November. For some additional analysis and opinion on the results of the runoffs – including implications for the fall elections – please click here and here.

Progress Towards 60x30TX Goals

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, established by the Texas Legislature in 1965, is tasked to provide leadership and coordination for the Texas higher education system and to promote access, affordability, quality, success, and cost efficiency.
In 2015, the THECB developed the 60x30TX Strategic Plan, which has four goals:
  • To create a highly educated and skilled workforce in Texas by getting 60% of Texans between the ages of 25-34 to receive a higher education certificate or degree by the year 2030.
  • To graduate 550,000 students from college by 2030.
  • To provide Texas' college graduate with marketable skills.
  • To ensure that undergraduate student loan debt will not exceed 60% of first-year wages.
The Texas Higher Education Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Coordinating Board, launched its eighth annual Texas Public Higher Education Almanac as part of the agency’s core value of creating accountability and transparency. The Almanac provides facts and data measuring and reporting on the progress of achieving the goals of 60x30TX.
In the two years the 60x30TX campaign has been in place, the Almanac reports the following progress:
  • The percent of Texans between the ages of 25-34 with a certificate or degree rose from 40.3% to 42.3%, a 7.25% increase.
  • The average graduate (from a Texas college or university) with a bachelor’s degree earned a starting salary of $42,449.
  • The average graduate with an associate’s degree earned a starting salary of $35,593.
Regarding the progress towards the state's goals, Raymond Paredes, the Commissioner of Higher Education, said, “While we have a lot of work ahead of us, this data show[s] that Texas has some real accomplishments to build on.” Read more about the progress Texans have made in the last few years here.

Changing Perceptions on Higher Education?

According to the most recent polls released by Washington,  D.C.-based think tank New America, there has been a slight change in attitudes toward higher education among the folks who self-identify as Republican. The new polling reflects a more positive view, especially when compared to 2017 survey results, which showed an all-time low approval rate and deep skepticism among Republican respondents.
The survey found that both Democrats and Republicans believe that it is easier to be successful with a college degree than without one. Additionally, it found that Republicans were generally positive about higher education and generally supported the investment of tax dollars towards higher education. 
However, the results of the survey still show a wide partisan gap about who should be primarily responsible to pay the costs associated with college attendance. Republicans responded with 52% agreeing that individuals should pay for their own college because it is a personal benefit. This figure is in stark contrast to the 76% of their Democratic counterparts suggesting that government should pay for higher education because of the good it creates for society.
Although there are differences in opinion on who should bear the majority of cost, the survey reflects some agreement that community colleges and public universities are worth the cost of attendance –- a significant change in the attitudes that were reflected in previous polling. To read more about the New America survey, please click on this article from Inside Higher Ed

Aggies on the Hill

Aggies on the Hill is a biennial series of events held in our nation's capital that promotes awareness and encourages federal support for Texas A&M University and higher education. The events are planned, organized and hosted by Association staff, and largely funded by donations made to The Association of Former Students.  Participants also include a delegation of leadership from the university, the Texas A&M University System, and local A&M Clubs. The trip culminates in office calls with the Texas Congressional delegation – including the five former students who currently serve in the U.S. House of Representatives – and a reception on Capitol Hill.
In addition to the conduct of serious advocacy, the highlight of this year's reception was the presentation of two Aggie Rings to Public Policy Internship Program participants who spent their spring semester in D.C.
All of the events were well attended and well received, and numerous former students who are Captiol Hill "staffers" heard President Young deliver a "State of the University" speech. It was great to catch up with so many Aggies who live and work in the Washington, D.C. area and share in their passion for Texas A&M. For a recap of the events and additional photos, please click here.
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