March 6, 2009 – Southeast Texas
A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work
By Susan Combs
Because of Angelina College’s adaptability in the face of changing work force needs, students there can enroll in a new surgical technology program.
According to Kathy Hall, the retired Angelina College Health Careers Division director who helped initiate the program, surgical technologists are “allied health professionals who are an integral part of the health care team that provides surgical care to patients in a variety of settings.”
Angelina College, which serves 12 East Texas counties, developed the program in response to area health care needs, illustrating the responsiveness of community and technical colleges in a dynamic economy.
In East Texas — and around the state — community and technical colleges prepare students to enter the work force with valuable skills for a broad range of fields. Our 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.
Schools such as the Lamar Institute of Technology could stand to benefit from additional funds. Despite high interest in courses offered at the school, it suffers from a space deficit of around 88,000 square feet. Technical training programs are housed in older facilities not suitable for classroom and lab space. Health care classes in particular are limited due to space restrictions.
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/.