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March 5, 2009 – Metroplex

A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work

By Susan Combs
Texas Comptroller

Vern Huriburt, a production manager at Raytheon in McKinney, knows the value of career-technical education and how it can foster a quality work force. He also knows that schools sometimes fail to encourage students in developing in-demand career skills.

“Numerous students are getting lost in the shuffle,” Huriburt said. “We have a young man here who works in our warehouse moving boxes. He asked, ‘What do I have to do to be a machinist?’ Never in high school was it proposed to take machining.”

The scenario Huriburt describes is not unique. The Metroplex area — and Texas 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. The Tarrant County College District and Dallas County Community College District serve more than a quarter of Texas’ entire population. Together, they provide more than 150 applied science degree and certificate programs, as well as numerous continuing education courses for skills enhancement and contract training programs for employers.

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.

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/.

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