March 6, 2009 – Upper East Texas
A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work
By Susan Combs
Edward Trump, an Entergy plant manager in Harrison County, recognizes the value in a community college education and its benefit to graduates.
“There is a tendency to push kids to a four-year degree, and I think we have to change that view,” Trump said. “There is nothing wrong with starting with an associate’s degree. We are paying many of our associate’s degree people more than four-year graduates.”
The scenario Trump describes is not unique. Our state as a whole and our individual workers stand 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.
Sometimes startup funding can make a huge difference. With the aid of a $1 million Skills Development Fund grant, Paris Junior College has partnered with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems to train workers for entry-level aircraft maintenance positions. The partnership will create 509 jobs in the region and upgrade an additional 1,226 jobs with hourly wages higher than $20.
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/.