Education Pipeline Produces Quality Results
Cooperation between private enterprise, educators at all levels and government agencies equals positive outcomes.
“Adoption and implementation of the Achieve Texas program to increase career awareness among middle school students, develop their individualized educational plans as they enter high school and strengthen curriculum that allows students to attain career goals are assets for the region and the state,” said Pat Hobbs, executive director of Workforce Solutions Cameron (WSC).
“Achieve Texas should produce a better-prepared student body for enrollment in post-secondary programs, place a more highly trained workforce in the economic pipeline, decrease dropout rates and improve the quality of life for a larger segment of the Valley population,” he explained.
Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties feature two institutions in the University of Texas System with the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) in Edinburg and the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB). Each provides research capabilities and an array of bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. Texas State Technical College (TSTC) in Harlingen delivers more than 30 programs related to technical careers and an Academic Transfer Core Curriculum.
Community colleges with Texas Southmost College in Brownsville (TSC) and South Texas College based in McAllen (STC) send many students into the workforce or send them onward to four-year universities. In addition to its two-year degree programs, STC also offers a Bachelor of Applied Technology degree in four fields. Both UTPA and STC are ranked among the five least expensive colleges in the U.S.
“The two-year colleges offer rapid response programs funded by state grants for customized short-term and long-term business and industry needs,” said Hobbs.
“This capability, coupled with a large, youthful workforce, is a definite attraction to site selection for companies assessing the ability of the region to supply its workforce needs for new and expanding industries or to upgrade the skills of existing employees,” continued Hobbs. “All these education institutions partner with Workforce Solutions Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties and Workforce Solutions Cameron to assist businesses recruit, assess, train, hire and support their workforce.”
Jack Damron, executive director of the Region One Education Service Center based in Edinburg, which cooperates with 37 school districts and nine charter schools in a seven-county area with more than 407,000 students in pre-kindergarten through high school, said that communities are achieving higher test scores thanks to tying more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) elements into to courses.
“Career advancement efforts by Region One, schools, colleges and universities promote higher education, and those efforts lead to education becoming a more prominent factor in economic growth,” said Damron.
For example, high school graduation rates for Region One increased 2 percent in each of the past four years.
Hobbs noted that business and industry leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley invest their time, expertise and resources to develop highly educated and skilled employees as demonstrated by the large number of professionals that serve on related community boards and advisory councils. Lower Rio Workforce Solutions and WSC provide federal training dollars in in-demand occupations, intensive training services, workplace readiness and support services like child care and transportation expenses to qualified job seekers.
Hobbs cited testimony provided by TWC Chairman Tom Pauken to the U.S. House of Representatives Economic and Small Business Development Committee on January 26, 2012. According to a TWC press release, Pauken recommended reform of the education system to place a greater emphasis on technical and vocational training in secondary schools.
Hobbs pointed to U.S. Department of Labor statistics that show at least 60 percent of positions in the job market will require employees with technical skills instead of university graduates. As a result, businesses and industries expect colleges and universities to restructure training programs and offer more intense and less expensive diploma options.
The North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) has put the region ahead of the curve. “This organization brings together diverse education partners to create a world-class talent workforce,” said Raudel Garza, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Development Council.
More information on NAAMREI is available on its website: www.naamrei.org.