March 5, 2009 – Capital
A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work
By Susan Combs
Cedar Park’s Melissa Silva knows the value of a community college education, as well as the opportunities it can offer a person unable to afford a four-year degree.
Using childcare and tuition assistance from a work force development program, Silva was able to study at Austin Community College and later secure a job at Seton Medical Center Williamson Hospital.
“I got up at 5:30 a.m., Monday through Friday, and I didn’t get back until after 6 p.m. — and then I studied,” Silva said. “We didn’t have cable. We didn’t go out. It is all worth it. I am proud that my kids have watched their mommy doing this.”
Like Silva, many Texans find themselves motivated to make important life changes, but unable to afford a four-year degree. Central Texas — and the state as a whole — stands to reap significant economic rewards if we shift some of our education policies from the traditional emphasis on four-year colleges and direct more attention, money and research toward work force training opportunities offered by community and technical colleges.
Community and technical college graduates add fuel to Texas’ economic engine and provide skills that keep our cities moving, building and thriving. In 2007, more than 80 percent of all Texas jobs did not require a bachelor’s degree. Neither did nearly 44 percent of the jobs paying wages above the state average. The U.S. Department of Education estimates about 80 percent of the fastest growing occupations in the near future will require some postsecondary training, but not a bachelor’s degree.
In my office’s recent Texas Works report, we detail strategies for developing our work force in ways that dovetail with future labor needs. One way to do that is to ensure high school students have multiple pathways to graduation by allowing greater flexibility in Texas graduation requirements and grade point average calculation standards, which can otherwise prevent or discourage high school students from enrolling in career and technology courses.
In addition to policy changes, we need to strengthen Texas’ work force. Establishing a $25 million fund to support community and technical colleges offering career-technical education will be invaluable to schools facing startup costs associated with purchasing equipment and outfitting state-of-the-art training facilities.
Community colleges can help cities grow new industries and strengthen existing ones. In Central Texas, community college students have a unique career training opportunity that feeds into one of Austin’s high-tech industries: video game production. The Austin Community College Video Game Development Program prepares students to enter a cutting-edge field after completing the two-year program.
Without an adequate supply of skilled workers, Texas’ ability to attract and retain new businesses will suffer. We also jeopardize the future financial well being of many young Texans by focusing on only one “ideal” route beyond high school. By bolstering our state’s sometimes overlooked educational assets, Texas can stand ready to greet future work force developments not as challenges, but as opportunities.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs recently released Texas Works , an in-depth study of the emerging gap between the demand for skilled workers and the state’s ability to supply them. The report is available online at www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/workforce/.