March 6, 2009 – High Plains
A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work
By Susan Combs
Panhandle community colleges are a true educational bargain.
At the region’s most expensive community college, students can obtain a two-year degree for an in-demand job for about $500 less than the statewide community college average of $10,456, which includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses. At the region’s least expensive community college, a two year degree can cost about $2,400 less than the statewide average.
Students at area community and technical colleges receive fast-paced, quality educations that can launch graduates into exciting careers such as nursing and aircraft manufacturing. The Texas Panhandle — 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. Amarillo College students have a unique career training opportunity that feeds into one of the Panhandle’s important industries: aircraft assembly. Over the last decade, Amarillo College and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. have collaborated to train hundreds of workers for Bell’s military aircraft assembly center in Amarillo. This type of partnership offers tangible benefits to the region, community college and local industry.
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/.