March 5, 2009 – Upper Rio Grande
A shift in education goals could put more Texans to work
By Susan Combs
Bob Burns knows the value of community colleges, and how they can foster a quality work force.
“Over the past five years, the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation has developed 6,800 jobs,” said Burns, vice president of business development for the corporation. “El Paso Community College has directly and indirectly been involved with more than half of these new jobs.”
The scenario Burns describes is not unique. The El Paso area — 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.
Registered Nurse Amanda Soto is a great example of someone making the most of a two-year degree. An El Paso Community College graduate, she’s a single mother of two supporting her family with an in-demand career paying more than $21 per hour. But Soto has decided to take her education further. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, with plans to eventually obtain her master’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/.