As industries grow, Texas community colleges step up to the plate

2017-01-28-txsuccess

Submitted by San Jacinto College

Industries in Texas show no signs of slowing down as growth continues with an increased need for skilled workers. Community colleges in the state stand ready to train and deliver the right candidates for the jobs.

With more than 210,000 jobs added to Texas in 2016, there’s been a spike in growth specifically within the education, health services, hospitality and manufacturing sectors, according to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Within the next seven years, Texas is projected to add more than 1.8 million jobs in health care, increase teaching and administrator jobs in both private and public education schools by 25 percent, and increase manufacturing jobs by 7 percent.

Other industries like petrochemical are continuing to expand with new projects, creating a ripple effect of need for workers in an array of industrial technology jobs. Approximately 11,430 direct employees and resident contractors in the combined operations, maintenance and engineering occupations will be needed to replace attrition and fill newly-created positions in the petrochemical industry by the close of 2019, according to the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. With $40 billion in capital investment, it is estimated that plant expansions along the Texas Gulf Coast region will result in 1,000 permanent jobs and approximately 30,000 construction jobs.

While industries look for new hires, what they really look for are skilled workers – those who are trained and ready for the job, and even better, with an associate degree. Jobs in areas like process technology and maritime, that were once held by employees with high school diplomas, now require more regulated training for skill sets that can include math, computer skills and soft skills.

This is where Texas community colleges come into play.

Community colleges are best positioned to provide customized training in their local community because of their familiarity with specific workforce needs, according to the TWC 2016 Skills Development Fund Annual Report.

Training efforts at community colleges include building new facilities with equipment and environments that closely replicates that of where graduates will one day work, like a sim lab for nursing students, a plant lab for process technology or bridge simulators for maritime students.

Many Texas colleges have received state and federal grants to assist industry in the training of current or incoming employees and make training more available to colleges’ service areas. For example, TWC awarded Laredo Community College a $332,500 Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant to install equipment to provide 158 students in the medical profession with training for advanced nursing skills. North Lake College was granted a $407, 230 TWC Skills Development Fund grant to partner with a manufacturing and distribution consortium for job training. San Jacinto College received an $8.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to provide tuition-free training to low-income individuals for select health occupation courses and program.

For many employers, their nearby community college serves a training hub where they’re a partner in ensuring graduates are prepared to land jobs and “hit the ground running” on Day 1.

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News Release: Texas students opting for quality, hands-on instruction at community colleges

eastfieldFabiola Chavez and Kingsley Scott wanted to make sure they were more than ready for their university experiences.

Chavez and Scott had every opportunity to attend major four-year institutions straight out of high school. But the two chose to use their local community colleges to provide them high-quality education while preparing them academically and socially for the challenges they would face at the university level.

Chavez, 21, graduated from Eastfield College in May 2015 and is transferring to the University of Dallas this fall to study biology and continue her pre-medicine track that will lead her to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Scott, 20, is a 2016 graduate of Victoria College and will attend the University of Texas at Austin this fall. She will study political science at UT with plans of entering the law school at the Austin campus.

Both students said familiarity, proximity and affordability played pivotal roles in their decisions to begin their careers in higher education at the community college level.

“I wanted more personal attention from my professors and more one-to-one learning experiences with faculty,” said Chavez, who graduated from W.T. White High School in Dallas. “I wanted to stay close to home. I wanted a realistic option for college, and I wanted a realistic price.”

“I felt when I first got out of high school, I wasn’t prepared to go off on my own,” said Scott, a graduate of rural Calhoun High School in Port Lavaca. “It seemed like community college would better prepare me and help me grow a little.”

Chavez and Scott are part of a continuing trend as community colleges remain the largest sector of Texas higher education. According to a study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), there were 700,892 students enrolled in community colleges statewide during the fall of 2015. That made up 47.1 percent of all higher education students in Texas. The number of students at public universities totaled 619,284 or 41.6 percent.

The THECB also reported 70 percent of all college freshmen and sophomores statewide were enrolled in community colleges for the Fall 2015 semester.

Eastfield College graduate Fabiola Chavez poses with the President’s Volunteer Service Award she received from President Obama.

“A lot of people just want to leave home when they get out of high school,” Scott said. “Sometimes that just isn’t the smartest move. You’re not ready for that commitment and the time and effort it takes. Community college is a good in-between step to get you ready.”

Another THECB study revealed 74 percent of all bachelor’s degree graduates in 2015 attended community colleges. Of those graduates, 35 percent accumulated more than 30 credit hours at community colleges.

More students are finding that community colleges offer lower teacher-to-student ratios and effective support systems to prepare them for four-year universities and beyond.

“Instead of being bombarded with the university experience, I wanted to get a dose of college reality at Eastfield,” Chavez said.

“When you’re off on your own in a big city at a big university, you don’t know anyone, you have no real help,” Scott said. “The teachers at Victoria College helped me prove to myself that I could make it through college classes even if it meant going to the tutoring center for extra help.”

According to the THECB and Texas Association of Community Colleges Legislative Budget Board, Texas community colleges rank third in the nation in affordability, behind only California and New Mexico. The average tuition and fees for the Fall 2016 semester for Texas full-time students living in a community college taxing district was $987.

“Affordability was definitely a big reason why I chose Victoria College,” said Scott, who said she will spend approximately $14,000 on boarding alone her first year in Austin. “I’m looking at my bills for this coming semester at UT and I’m thinking, ‘Can I just stay at VC?’’’

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The #TXsuccess campaign is a collaboration between the Texas Association of Community College Marketers (TACCM) and the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) to showcase the value of Texas community colleges to legislators, policymakers, and communities in Texas.