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April 2009

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School Pays

“…when I finish, I should be in a position where I could get a management position at a feedlot or run a ranch.”

Ray Crump
– student, Clarendon College

Working Texans earn return on educational investment

by Gerard MacCrossan

When the economy struggles, the job market becomes a more competitive place. Skills and work experience are factors in edging out other contenders for job vacancies.

Opportunities are limited for anyone with less than a high school education. The median weekly income of a high school graduate older than 25 and working full-time is $619 – 35 percent higher than the median income for a worker who didn’t earn a high school diploma. For a worker with a bachelor’s degree, the median income is 80 percent higher at $1,115, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Community Colleges Growing

About 5,000 students signed up for spring classes at Southwest Texas Junior College, about 40 percent more than were enrolled a decade ago. With campuses in Uvalde, Eagle Pass and Del Rio, most of the students come from an 11-county region along the Texas-Mexico border.

“It looks like we kind of held our own,” says Willie Edwards, the college’s public information officer. In most years, the student population drops 4 or 5 percent from fall to spring, but not in 2009 when the number rose by 48 students, almost 1 percent. “I think anybody in higher education would tell you, during a bad economy, you’ll see some increases in enrollment.”

Clarendon’s computer students come from a wide variety of backgrounds with one thing in common: a desire to expand their skills and hiring potential.

Earnings by Educational Attainment

Upper weekly earnings limit of:
CharacteristicNumber of Workers (thousands)Lowest
Less than a high school diploma8,220$282$459 $883
High school graduate, no college126,650$332 $619$1,247
Some college or associate degree26,685$385 $719$1,402
Bachelor’s degree and higher234,340$541 $1,115$2,324
Bachelor’s degree only22,229$507 $1,016$2,209
Advanced degree12,111$639 $1,272$2,662
Total, 25 years and over95,895$368 $764$1,770

1 Includes persons with a high school diploma or equivalent.
2 Includes persons with bachelor’s, master’s, professional and doctorate degrees

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the Panhandle, the story is the same.

“Our enrollment this spring is up more than 8 percent from last spring,” says Ashlee Estlack, marketing coordinator for Clarendon College. “This increase is due in part to higher enrollment in our technical programs. Our non-traditional, commuter demographic has grown and we hope to target this group and continue to see growth.”

Ray Crump, 44, enrolled in the ranch and feedlot program to improve his earning potential. A Clarendon resident, the college’s proximity allows him to attend classes and work part-time. He says he plans to continue in the fall semester working toward an associates degree.

“There are lots of possibilities, but right now, when I finish, I should be in a position where I could get a management position at a feedlot or run a ranch,” Crump says.

Jack McCarty, a computer instructor at Clarendon’s Pampa campus, says a majority of students in his Microsoft IT Academy classes are switching careers, although some come directly from high school.

“It’s primarily work force education,” he says. “Teaching employability is my number one goal. At this level, people need to know basically how a network functions.”

The first level of accomplishment is a technical certification. Students can take additional classes to earn an associate of applied science (AAS) degree.

Clarendon’s computer students come from a wide variety of backgrounds with one thing in common: a desire to expand their skills and hiring potential.

Jimmie Adams, 47, tried college after high school but quickly traded books for a ranching job. He also welded and worked at a county jail until medical problems forced him to find alternative employment. Just two classes away from completing his associates degree, Adams has his eye on finding an IT job when he’s done, a big change from ranch work.

Pilot Jesse Seaman, a former Texas Instruments electrical engineer who already holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, took the opportunity to learn new skills when he signed up for the certificate computing courses at Clarendon.

“With time down [between flights] while I’m waiting for people, I’m taking these classes to broaden my technical ability and skills on computers,” he says.

Seaman says he enjoys his job, but wants a backup in the event of his flying work ever drying up: “If my boss has to sell his airplane, I’ll have something to do.”

Success Starts with Education

Having the right education is where employers begin. Dallas-based Curt Bludworth, a human resources director for Hewlett-Packard’s EDS Division, tells students during annual career days at his former high school to continue their education after graduation.

“Whatever circumstances are in your life, if what you can do is go to a technical school or a two-year school and get an associates degree, do it,” he says. “Just be sure you are relevant in the marketplace.”

Bludworth says HP, which employs more than 300,000 people in 80 countries, puts a premium on education – including what employees bring in when they’re hired.

“We’ve taken a whole different approach to the learning culture at HP,” he says. “People have traditionally thought that you only get further educated if you take a formal class. That’s not where adults necessarily learn the most. We rotate our talent within our company – giving people an opportunity to learn on the job, because it’s a new experience.”

Have Degree, Wanting More

Economic uncertainty hasn’t put a stop to high-level businessmen and women wanting to expand their education. An executive MBA designed for working professionals that fits around their schedules is a popular alternative to a traditional full-time MBA, says Julie Orzabal, director at Texas A&M University’s Executive MBA (EMBA) program in The Woodlands.

And while students undoubtedly enroll with the expectation they will be financially better off after graduation, Orzabal says the primary motivation is to enhance their management skills and add value to their organizations.

Amy Schwab, who graduated from A&M’s EMBA program in 2008, was promoted to Constellation Energy’s director of Operational Accounting overseeing accounts receivable transactions of about $6 billion annually. Her company provided tuition reimbursement and time off to prepare for classes.

“I came to a point in my career where I felt I was not able to fully participate in executive-level meetings and was unsure how to politically navigate the organization to get things accomplished,” Schwab says.

The training provides an obvious return on investment for both Constellation Energy and Schwab.

“Management recognizes my ability to perform at a higher level and continues to provide me opportunity to prepare for promotion to a vice president level,” she says. “This is a few years down the road, but the momentum and support for me reaching that level is definitely there.” FN

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