Higher Education commissioner talks goals

Harrison Keller

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller talked about his goals regarding accessing higher education pathways and partnerships to media last week.

Keller took the commissioner position on Oct. 1, succeeding former Commissioner Raymund Paredes. Keller has served as a clinical professor of public policy practice at the University of Texas at Austin and as a deputy to the president. He has created initiatives to increase student success, such as a program to offer college-level courses to high school students called OnRamps and an initiative to improve college and career advising.

One of Keller’s goals is to have the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board be more of a resource and partner with institutions, employers and state policymakers.

“Those partnerships I think are going to be key for being able to unlock the potential of Texas talent,” Keller said. “The vision I have is for us to have much clearer and more flexible pathways to high-quality educational opportunities and high-value credentials. All Texans deserve to be able to access affordable, high-quality learning opportunities that lead to credentials of value, and by that, I mean postsecondary credentials that will help them unlock their potential, help them provide for their family and pursue their dreams.”

Student success is an area that Weatherford College has been focused on recently, especially through the Guided Pathways program that aims to better help students achieve their higher education goals.

“Weatherford College is focused on providing students from all backgrounds with flexible pathways toward high-quality credentials,” WC President Tod Allen Farmer said. “That can mean a degree for some or a certificate for others. The recent National Science Foundation grant in robotics is one example of a new program offering that will allow graduates to earn family-sustaining wages.”

As far as the coordinating board being a resource and partner to institutions, Farmer said the college is appreciative of the guidance and support provided by the agency.

“A further refinement would be eliminating some of the bureaucratic red tape associated with reporting and program approval,” Farmer said. “Such streamlining helps all colleges control labor costs.”

Keller said research and development capabilities need to be strengthened. Though he said some institutions and communities are doing well with this, there’s more to be done to accelerate innovation in ways that are meaningful to the state.

“The state of Texas higher education is uneven, but I think there is tremendous potential,” Keller said. “I think that a lot of that potential is going to be able to be unlocked through new partnerships, working together across institutional boundaries with employers, with policymakers, so all Texas students regardless of race, ethnicity or income can fully participate in, benefit from and contribute to the future of Texas.”

Keeping Texas competitive is a job to be done with urgency and not through incremental progress, Keller said.

Farmer also said partnerships are a way that the college is accelerating innovation, particularly through the Veterinary Technician Program that will be taught at the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter.

“The program is the first of its kind and will save the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money by eliminating redundant equipment costs, and by lowering animal shelter labor costs,” Farmer said. “Another example is the recent partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions. To the best of our knowledge, Weatherford College will become the first college in the nation to have Workforce Solutions housed on a college campus. This will again save the taxpayers money by pooling clerical labor costs and by sharing facility fixed costs. It will also facilitate the movement of citizens from public assistance to tax-paying jobs.”

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