History & Relevance of the Texas Higher Education Symposium
The THES was originally created by and for the graduate students of the Department of Education and Policy Leadership at The University of Texas at San Antonio. For five years the Symposium was funded by a grant, providing free access to participants and providing a space for emerging scholars as well as practitioners and researchers in the state to convene. Due to lack of funding, there was no symposium in 2014. As a response to this void, Texas-based postsecondary faculty gathered informally in November at the 2014 Annual ASHE Conference to discuss how to meet two goals: (1) fund the THES in 2015 and beyond and (2) create a space for Texas scholars to convene regularly. Six institutions (Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas Tech University, University of Houston, The University of Texas at Austin, and The University of Texas at San Antonio) each pledged funds to support the 2015 symposium. However, the funding for the 2015 symposium was unsustainable. The partners agreed to and to explore funding solutions and move the symposium to The University of at Austin for two years and then arrive at a two-year rotating schedule so each institution could benefit from the Symposium’s presence, exposure, and professional development opportunities.
The Symposium Goals, Context, and Rationale
THES partners secured a grant from the Greater Texas Foundation to support operating costs for two years to give the THES the opportunity to build its donor base and expand its reach. The THES’s overarching are to (1) address inequity and achievement gaps in the P-20 education pipeline from the perspective of high quality research to inform practice and policy, (2) nurture the next generation of scholars focused on Texas higher education issues, and (3) create a space of creative collaboration and networking among various higher education stakeholders.
Context. These three aims align with the problems confronting Texas higher education in the 21st century. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board proposes that by 2030 sixty percent of Texans age 25-34 will earn a certificate or degree. Areas needing an increased focus to make strides by 2030 include participation by unrepresented race and gender groups, teacher certification and STEM field graduates, and national recognition for Texas universities. As institutions work to accommodate more students with restrained budgets, reduce racialized and gendered gaps in educational attainment, and make persistence – not merely enrollment – a criterion of success, scholarship is needed to guide our collective efforts to expand educational equity in the state.
Rationale. The field of higher education has several conferences its members can and do attend in order to collaborate, extend research and policy impact, and cultivate the next generation of scholars, including ASHE (Association for the Study of Higher Education), NASPA (Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education), AERA (American Educational Research Association), and ACPA (American College Personnel Association). Many graduate students cannot attend those conferences as they are costly and held in various locations across the country and, though Texas scholars are aware of each other, collaboration has proven to be challenging due to lack of a central organizing body to bring scholars together. The closest organization in scale and scope to what the Symposium proposes is NASPA Region III, which serves 11 states in the south and southeast and focuses on practice explicitly and policy and research more tangentially. ACPA has state chapters, but the Texas chapter is not active; and though TACUSPA (Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators) and TAIR (Texas Association for Institutions Research) exist, they do not explicitly focus on higher education research. ASHE and AERA provide wonderful venues for research but are national organizations, move locations around the country, and are very competitive, meaning there are limited opportunities for emerging scholars to gain entrance, get feedback, and network. Some organizations have regional and state chapters, but none have the unique ability to bring together diverse institutional types and top scholars and students from across the state to focus on Texas higher education from a praxis and policy perspective.
The Texas Higher Education Symposium is uniquely positioned to assist the state of Texas in moving forward in several of these areas. Scholars of Texas higher education are the best positioned to conduct research addressing persistent gaps in enrollment, attainment, and equity. The perspective of scholars – using empirical, theoretical, and practice-based research – is needed to understand what is working and what needs improvement in the state educational pipeline, to study best practices of thriving programs, budget and finance issues, policy implementation and impact, and the retention of talented and diverse students and faculty. The state and its communities need our best scholars to come together and forge new collaborations in serve of new knowledge. Texas scholars desire to work together, but current conferences do not meet their needs and do not encourage cultivation of young scholars due to location, cost, and sometimes intimidating environments.
The THES, therefore, seeks to fulfill a unique need in the State. The faculty of the state of Texas higher education institutions recognized this when the THES was unable to convene in 2014 The THES brings together graduate students, faculty, practitioners, and policy makers to discuss the most pressing equity issues facing Texas and the nation and will provide a space to discuss solutions based on research, policy, and practice. This conference will advance Texas higher education by providing a space for presentations, networking, and building a community of scholars.