More than 1 million Texans misplaced jobs seemingly in a single day and the state’s unemployment fee practically quadrupled when the coronavirus pandemic first slammed the economic system early final 12 months.
But a much less seen influence of the pandemic — a steep decline in academic attainment by Texas college students amid the disaster — would possibly find yourself having even greater unfavorable economic penalties long run, in accordance with the state’s high public college official.
“This is the largest problem facing the state of Texas — the problem of making sure that our citizenry is educated to take advantage of the opportunities” generated by the economy in the future, said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, speaking Monday at a Texas Association of Business policy conference in downtown Austin.
Morath, who made his comments during a panel discussion on the Texas workforce, said the percentage of third graders in the state who meet grade-level proficiency in reading and math has dropped precipitously since the start of the pandemic.
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“It is the largest decline in student knowledge in numeracy and literacy that has quite possibly ever occurred in the history of the state of Texas,” Morath said. The drop “in student proficiency in mathematics and literacy is as significant as anything we have ever seen.”
The hyperlink between education and points similar to job prospects and incomes potential means the blow dealt to public education by the pandemic may have substantial repercussions if the declines aren’t reversed, each for particular person Texans and the state total, he mentioned.
Left unchecked, he mentioned, the drop in academic attainment stands to equate to a median 6% discount in lifetime earnings for all 5.5 million college students enrolled in Texas public colleges — for a “web current worth” of $2 trillion in forgone earnings.
The Texas unemployment fee soared to 12.9% on a seasonally adjusted foundation in April final 12 months — from about 3.5% beforehand — amid widespread fears concerning the pandemic and short-term government-mandated shutdowns of companies deemed nonessential.
More just lately, the state’s economic system has been on the upswing, though the delta variant of the coronavirus remains to be fueling uncertainty. The unemployment fee got here in at 5.9% statewide in August, which stays elevated from pre-pandemic ranges however a considerable enchancment from the peak of the disaster.
The future Texas workforce is not more likely to shake off the unfavorable results of the pandemic so rapidly, nevertheless.
Harrison Keller, commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, participated within the panel dialogue with Morath on Monday and mentioned enrollment at schools within the state declined considerably total final spring.
“It is hard to overstate the impact of the pandemic on our colleges and our universities,” Keller said.
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“This is a strategic vulnerability (for the state) that doesn’t go away as we navigate the delta variant and other issues around the pandemic,” he said. “We know that the longer these students are out, the lower the chances are that they are going to reenroll.”
Keller mentioned group schools and regional universities have borne the brunt of the pandemic-related enrollment declines, with male college students, low-income college students and a few minority college students the more than likely to choose in opposition to attending.
The difficulty could have enormous economic repercussions over time, he mentioned, as a result of there may be “an astounding correlation” between unemployment and an absence of post-high college academic attainment. He additionally mentioned the pandemic-induced economic downturn was “essentially the most inequitable” for the reason that information has been tracked, by way of hurting low-skilled staff essentially the most.
Still, there are causes for optimism.
Morath pointed to various measures accepted by the Legislature this 12 months which can be geared toward addressing the falloff in academic attainment by Texas schoolchildren amid the pandemic.
In addition, his company, Keller’s company and the Texas Workforce Commission have been stepping up cooperation begun earlier than the pandemic to attempt to make sure that college students have the abilities which can be in demand within the state’s economic system.
“At the end of the day, we are listening to employers to find out what the needs are” after which working to place in place applications to assist folks meet them, mentioned Aaron Demerson, one of many workforce company’s three commissioners and a participant within the panel dialogue Monday.