Following State of the Union, the Price of Higher Ed in Austin

During the State of the Union Tuesday evening, President Obama focused part of his address on the price of higher education. This weekend during PBS NewsHour, we take a closer look at his proposals.

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future,” President Obama said.

In our Saturday story, we speak with Dr. David Laude, Senior Vice Provost for Enrollment and Graduation Management at the University of Texas. Dr. Laude is tasked with increasing UT’s 4 year graduation rate to 70%. To reach that goal, the school is focusing on low-income students.

“There was an article that had a pretty blunt headline that said ‘rich kids graduate, poor kids often do not.’ If you take a look at whether or not a student’s going to graduate, the most important indicator if they will struggle is if they come from an under-resourced background,” Laude said. “They don’t really have the money to be able to hang in there and to graduate in 5 years or 6 years. Yes, it’s possible, some of them will do it, but every time they do it they’re taking out more loans. Every time they’re doing it, they’re running up more debt.”

We also spoke to Jeff Webster, Assistant VP for Research and Analytical Services at TG. TG is a nonprofit corporation which “offers resources to help students and families plan and prepare for college, learn the basics of money management, and repay their federal student loans.”

You can see our Saturday story in the video above.

On Sunday, our story looks at President Obama’s other higher education proposal: free community college. Webster told us about a TG study that found graduates with a four-year degree, if they started at a community college, “tend to have no less debt than someone who started at a four year school, and sometimes they have even more debt.”

We spoke with Neil Vickers, Austin Community College’s VP of Finance & Budget, about that survey and about President Obama’s proposal.

“We’re very interested in affordability for our students. It’s actually in our mission, to provide affordable higher education,” Vickers said. “When you just focus on tuition, to what extent does that really get to the root of the problem? I think part of the conversation is that a community college student can take out a similar sized loan as though they were at the university. I think there needs to be other discussions about loan programs and maybe this will serve as a good catalyst for those.”

The Texas Association of Community Colleges released this statement in response to President Obama’s plan for free community college:

“TACC has not yet voted to take a position, but, as a whole, the community college presidents in Texas appreciate that President Obama has recognized the importance of community colleges and the importance he has put on providing students with pathways to the workforce and to continue their education.”

You can see that story in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. Both of these stories are part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

Straus Re-Elected House Speaker

Representative Joe Straus will return to his role as House Speaker after a landslide win over Representative Scott Turner.

Turner has worked over the past year to curry favor with conservatives in order to unseat Rep. Straus as Speaker.  It was a campaign that led Straus to make veiled comments about Turner’s efforts to turn fellow Republicans against him in the vote for Speaker.

“Leading up to this day, a small number sought to divide us with misleading and personal attacks,” Straus said after being sworn in as Speaker. “But you can not effectively govern this House by dividing it.”

Straus garnered 127 votes over Turner’s 19.  This is the first time since 1975 that the House has held a contested vote for the Speaker of the House.

News Briefs: Cyclo-Cross Championship, First 10-1 Council Sworn In

CYCLO CROSS FOR AIR

Cyclo-Cross is a hybrid sport that’s gaining popularity around the world. This weekend, Zilker Park is hosting the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. The event is free and open to the public and runs through Sunday. You can see our story about the event on Saturday during PBS NewsHour.

On Sunday evening, our story is about the historic swearing-in of Austin’s first 10-1 City Council.

“The excitement in this city and in this room is palpable, and the expectations are high.  And on this dias, the sense of responsibility is felt and it is real,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the crowd.

“Today is not about the 11 of us being sworn in before you. It’s about the community throughout Austin that, after suffering decades of under-representation and neglect in this building, will finally have a voice,” District 3 Council Member Sabino Renteria said.

All 11 members took the oath of office Tuesday evening.

You can see both stories this weekend during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. 

 

 

American Graduate: Alternatives and opportunities starting in Pre-K

During PBS NewsHour this weekend, our stories are both part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas.

On Saturday, we spoke with Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and AISD’s Director of Early Childhood Jacquie Porter about free all day Pre-K for qualified families. The two entities are teaming up to enroll more qualified four year olds in prekindergarten. Pre-K is free for children who have limited-English proficiency, are economically disadvantaged, those whose parents are active military or were killed in action, for children who are homeless, or who have ever been in CPS care.

“Pre-k benefits kids in a number of ways. We think academically, but pre-k also benefits children socially, getting along, taking turns. And it’s the best time for learning, so we want to make sure we capitalize on that and make sure kids are where they’re supposed to be when they start kindergarten,” Porter says.

For our Sunday story we traveled to Bastrop to hear about Colorado River Collegiate Academy – the district’s early college high school. The school opened this year and offers students the opportunity to earn their associates degree from Austin Community College before they graduate high school. The degree is free for families. The district is targeting students who are low-income or who will be the first in their family to attend college.

You can see an extended version that story in the video above.

Both stories will air locally as a KLRU News Briefs during PBS NewsHour Weekend at 6:30pm. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

 

American Graduate: Goodwill School Puts Adult Drop-outs Back on Track

The Goodwill Excel Center, which opened its doors in August, is a regular charter high school – except its students are adults, aged 19-50, who dropped out of high school. They teach all of the traditional high school courses, with students picking up where they left off.

Many people who drop out of high school eventually earn their GED, but Head of School Dr. Billy Harden says there is a big difference in earning potential between a GED and a regular high school diploma.

“We’re looking at possibly anywhere in the range of a $2,000 to $9,000 difference if a student gets their high school diploma,” Dr. Harden said. “I’m already seeing it changing their lives. I’m seeing more of our students coming each day and the learning is becoming more intrinsic. It’s starting to look and feel like a way to empower themselves. So, they not only have the ability to say ‘I have my high school diploma, but I’m a little smarter than I was when I got here,’ and I think that’s very important.”

We spoke to Matilda Zamarripa, who dropped out her senior year of high school. Matilda has worked successfully in the beauty industry for almost 20 years but has always wanted to earn her high school diploma.

“You kind of carry that little secret around. Like oh, I’ve never finished,” Matilda said. “My daughter definitely inspired me when she was graduating high school. Going to her graduation two years ago reminded me like ‘wow, I never got to experience this’ but I got to experience it through her. She’s now on her second year at Texas State University and that really inspired me you know, I really want[ed] to go back to school.”

You can hear more about Matilda and the Goodwill Excel Center in the video above.

A shortened version of this story will air locally as a KLRU News Briefs during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Sunday, November 23 at 6:30pm. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

 

KLRU News Brief: Adler, Martinez Debate Leadership Qualities

On Thursday Austin Mayoral runoff candidates Steve Adler and Mike Martinez recorded Civic Summit: Mayoral Runoff Conversation, an hour-long discussion about the leadership qualities each would employ if they are elected on December 16. Our Sunday News Brief includes excerpts from that debate. The entire debate is online and will air on KLRU on Friday, November 21 at 8pm.

A point of discussion in this election has been what the mayor’s role will be in wrangling discussion and debate among the ten new city council members.

“Whether you’re a district council member from east or west Austin, your issues are going to be the same,” explained Martinez.  ”As mayor, you find that common ground, and you build on that common ground.”

“We have one city here,” said Adler.  ”And we either move together as a whole city or none of us are going to be moving together.

You can watch the entire debate online here.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

AISD Awards Belated Diplomas to War Veterans

It’s a graduation that’s been years in the making.  On Veterans Day, the Austin Independent School District awarded 11 veterans with diplomas from their respective high schools.  It’s a ceremony that AISD has held since 2002, offering veterans who did not finish high school and who served in any formally declared war or military engagement a chance to don the cap and gown.  For some, it’s a chance they’ve waited years to take.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” said Air Force veteran Doyle Hobbs.  ”It seemed like a gift from heaven.”

“I completed my G.E.D.,” recalled U.S. Military veteran Eugenio Gaona.  ”But I always wished I could get it converted so I could have a diploma from my hometown.  Now I’m happy. I have a high school diploma from my high school.”

Click here for more information on the AISD Diploma Award Ceremony and eligibility requirements.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

 

KLRU News Brief: Austin Transportation Bond Fails…Now What?

On Election Day Austin voters rejected a $600M transportation bond by a wide margin. For our Saturday News Brief we spoke to Capital Metro to find out if they have a plan B.

“We’re chipping away where we can,” Capital Metro President and CEO Linda Watson told us. “We have recently received federal funds and TXDOT funds to increase capacity on the current red line commuter rail line [and] within three years we will be able to offer 15 minute service. We’re also looking at operating express buses on express lanes on MoPac. You want to get the most bang for your buck, especially when you’re using taxpayer’s money.”

The City of Austin Demographer published a map this week showing how the vote broke down by precinct. It was supported by many in the urban core, but got very little support in the outlying areas.

Watson told us she does not blame the people who didn’t support paying property taxes for a system they wouldn’t use.

We also spoke to Dr. Kara Kockelman, Professor of Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas. Watch the video above to hear her thoughts on why rail might not be the best solution for Austin.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

 

 

American Graduate: New Data Shows Improved 9th Grade Retention Rates in Central Texas

On Sunday during PBS NewsHour, our KLRU News Brief is part of American Graduate. We spoke to our partners at E3 Alliance about new data, which shows improves rates of retention among Central Texas 9th graders.

The surge in retention between 9th and 10th grade is often referred to as a bubble. That means there is a jump in the amount of students held back compared to other school years. If students don’t get enough credits to move up with their class to 10th grade, they’re still considered 9th graders.

“We’ve seen a drop of about half of the retention rate in the last few years, and that’s incredibly important, because we’ve found those students that are retained in the 9th grade are 8 ½ times more likely to drop out as their peers who weren’t retained in 9th grade,” E3 Executive Director Susan Dawson told us.

We visited Eastside Memorial High School for E3′s data unveiling and spoke with two students about their experiences in school. Both said there are many factors holding back some of their peers.

“Some of the challenges would be like, families. Some parents have to work so kids have to stay home and watch the younger brothers and sisters, or they have work after school and get home and go to sleep to get up the next morning,” Eastside Memorial High School Junior Isaac Reyes told us. “I know some kids have dropped out, not because of work or family things, but like, they don’t see why they should have to come to school when it doesn’t relate to what they want to do. They don’t see the point in taking all these extra classes.”

Proponents of the recently enacted House Bill 5 say the students Isaac describes are exactly the ones the new graduation plan is designed to reach.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

 

 

KLRU News Brief: Interactive Exhibit at Bullock State History Museum Open Through May

On Saturday during PBS NewsHour, we go behind the scenes of a new exhibit at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. La Belle: The Ship that Changed History is unique. Museum goers can watch in real time as curators re-build a 17th Century ship, which spent 300 years underwater in Matagorda Bay.

La Belle belonged to Sieur de La Salle, a French explorer who came to the New World in 1684. He was on his way to the mouth of the Mississippi River, missed it, and landed in Texas.

“He would eventually lose the La Belle in a storm in 1686,” Guest Curator Jim Bruseth explains in our story. “The sinking of the La Belle doomed La Salle’s attempt to establish a colony. Because of that, the French presence in Texas faded, but the scare that it put in the Spanish king started the efforts to colonize and occupy Texas by Spain.”

That scare is why La Belle is called the ship that changed Texas history. The exhibit is open now and runs through May 17, 2015.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm.