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061622 community colleges important

By Audrey Young

As a ninth generation Texan, my family has very strong roots, and I am dedicated to making our state better on behalf of future generations. Improving education is why I have devoted nearly three decades working in public education.

It has been my privilege to watch students grow and overcome challenges to find their best next step. In keeping up with our ever-evolving economy, we, the educational leaders of Texas, are responsible for setting up our students to succeed.

Part of this charge includes making a collective effort for steering our students toward essential and viable employment.

Due to our state’s conservative leadership, Texas is creating jobs in record numbers. Many of these “new-collar jobs” in high-wage, high-growth industries, do not require a four-year degree, but they do require a postsecondary credential.

In fact, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, more than half of all jobs in our state need an industry-based certification. However, only 45 percent of Texans have the necessary level of education. This training disproportionality creates a gap of roughly 1.4 million of our neighbors, who do not have the preparation they need to compete for manufacturing and technology jobs.

The good news is Texas community colleges can directly address the certification shortage.

Community colleges are agile and regularly adapt to changing workforce needs. I am a proud product of community college. I was one of the first high school students in my district to participate in dual-enrollment and graduate with my associate’s degree within a year of graduating high school.

I believe that attendance at junior college prepared me for the academic challenge of a university. That was a long time ago, and now students have the opportunity to graduate community college before they graduate high school.

Early college and career high schools such as Robert Turner Career and College in Pearland, Conroe ISD’s dual credit offerings through Lone Star College on six of their high school campuses, and Quest Collegiate/iHigh with Responsive Ed in the Woodlands and across the state, are excellent examples of the positive momentum toward ensuring student’s academic and vocational success.

As a member of the Texas State Board of Education, I help set standards for technical classes and adopt curriculum for our high schools that provide additional training to prepare students for the workforce. This is why I am closely following the work of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance. I’ve seen innovative practices grow across our state, but to me, the greatest example the Commission could follow is one I have found right here at home.

According to the date from TWC, in the Gulf Coast region, construction is booming, and HVAC mechanic and installer positions are expected to grow 19.6 percent from 2019-2028 in our area. With 950 new HVAC jobs created each year, our students need access to postsecondary credentials in order to meet this high local demand.

Thankfully, the leadership of Lone Star College (LSC) responded to the needs of our local economy and created a dedicated HVAC training program at its new Magnolia Center facility. LSC-Montgomery President Rebecca Riley said they did a labor market analysis, saw the need for HVAC credentials, and worked with Magnolia ISD’s CTE program to create a pathway for students that sets them up for success while meeting local demand for HVAC jobs. This is a shining example of a successful, strategic partnership, and I hope the commission will take note of this data informed approach.

Just think, if the 50 community college districts across our state worked together to develop collaborative, nimble solutions like Lone Star College, we could reduce the skills gap in our state and ensure all kids have an opportunity to earn a self-sustaining wage.

I am particularly pleased that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed Sen. Creighton and Lone Star College Chancellor Steve Head to the Commission because I know they will make sure the Gulf Coast region is represented. Ultimately, the children of Texas are our top priority, and I will continue to work with other State Board of Education members to ensure our students can access the training they need to support themselves and our community.

Audrey Young is a ninth generation Texan who currently represents the Gulf Coast region on the State Board of Education.

“Community colleges are agile and regularly adapt to changing workforce needs. I am a proud product of community college. I was one of the first high school students in my district to participate in dual-enrollment and graduate with my Associate in Arts within a year of graduating high school. I believe that attendance at “junior” college prepared me for the academic challenge of University. […] This is why I am closely following the work of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance.”

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