Today, more than twenty leading business and education organizations urged state policymakers to strengthen funding for community colleges in Texas and drive improved outcomes in the wake of a growing skilled workforce shortage that has left over a million job openings across Texas unfilled as of March 2022.
That message came in the form of a report of key policy recommendations for the Texas Commission on Community College Finance to consider. The recommendations are vital to improving the state’s community college system and the overall economy – from strengthening funding to improving the educational and occupational outcomes for the 650,000 students currently attending a Texas public community or technical college. Without urgent action, Texas risks losing a generation of students and billions of dollars of their potential earnings.
“… [D]espite having one of the longest sustained economic expansions in American history, Texas is facing a pronounced decline in workforce competitiveness due – in large part – to a lack of postsecondary attainment among working-aged adults,” the report states. “Today, an estimated 86% of all good full-time jobs in the U.S. require a postsecondary credential. By 2030, 62% of all Texas jobs will require the same.”
According to the report, Texas is a leader when it comes to job creation but lacks the skilled talent to fill its workforce. Only 23% of Texans who graduated from 8th grade in 2009 went on to achieve any type of postsecondary credential ten years later. For Harris and Bexar County public school students, it was only 22%.
A postsecondary credential is essential to participate in the 21st-century workforce – but it doesn’t have to be a four-year degree. Of Houston’s more than 3.1 million workers, over 30 percent occupy jobs in this category, and that number is expected to rise as the list of fastest growing industries in the Gulf Coast region is dominated by middle-skill employers such as outpatient care centers and technical consulting services. Texas Labor Market Information projections are similar for the Alamo region and indeed the entire state.
Texas’ community and technical colleges offer the best solution to the state’s workforce challenges. The report shared key recommendations urging state leaders to make targeted, strategic investments in the state’s community colleges to strengthen the Texas workforce.
“A large and growing number of jobs in our state require the kind of skills training and certifications offered by Texas’ community colleges,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston region’s principal business organization. “Investment in our community college network is critical to our future economic success, equipping the next generation of Texans with the skills needed to compete in a rapidly evolving business environment. The Partnership calls on the Texas Commission on Community College Finance to increase funding for this vital resource.”
These recommendations are supported by multiple chambers of commerce and education organizations in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Tyler/Longview and more. These recommendations come as the Commission is expected to release its own findings in the fall of 2022 after eight months of meetings.
Key points from the report:
- In Texas today, 54% of jobs in Texas are considered middle-skill, meaning that they require a postsecondary credential beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree. However, only 45% of Texans are sufficiently trained for these types of jobs — which leaves a 9-percentage point “middle skills gap” of about 1.4 million Texans, according to the National Skills Coalition.
- Without significant, immediate action, the current system will fail to provide Texas employers with the skilled workforce they need while simultaneously putting an entire generation of Texans at risk of being unable to participate in the 21st-century economy.
The report’s recommendations are designed to fundamentally reform community college finance in Texas to reflect the needs of the 21st century. They are intended to build upon, support, and advance the state’s new “Building a Talent Strong Texas” goals.
The recommendations are aimed at achieving the following:
- Drive improved results as well as post-secondary and workforce goals.
- Increase equity for low-income, rural, adult, and other historically underserved populations – improving their educational and job outcomes by 2030.
- Encourage community colleges to work as a coordinated network of institutions, increasing efficiencies across the districts.
- Support and expand programs that deliver credentials of value, as defined in the state’s “Building a Talent Strong Texas” goals, through direct state funding incentives to employers and community colleges.
- Establish deadlines for the dissemination of state data to community colleges to support their program development, alignment to critical workforce needs, and overall improved student outcomes.
- Expand dual credit offerings that meet local workforce needs and reduce cost barriers to students – especially among those from underrepresented groups or low-income backgrounds.
- Incentivize regional collaboration to support student postsecondary success and workforce alignment.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
- Revise Student Success Points to better incentivize the outcomes Texas seeks.
- Incentivize and resource community colleges to bolster critical advising and other student support.
- Strategically invest in more direct state funding incentives to employers and community colleges that partner to support community college programs delivering credentials of value to meet local workforce demands.
- The Legislature should set a deadline for the Tri-Agency – consisting of the Texas Education Agency, Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Workforce Commission – to disseminate timely and actionable data to community colleges to support program development aligned to regional critical workforce needs and overall improved student outcomes.
- Leverage the authority of The Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and its commissioner to facilitate and incentivize community colleges to work as a coordinated network of institutions to increase efficiencies across the districts.
- Given the strong, positive effects of dual credit on student success, the state should (i) incentivize the expansion of dual credit offerings that meet local workforce needs and (ii) reduce cost barriers to students – especially among those from underrepresented groups or low-income backgrounds. Regardless of zip code, all students should have access to strong dual credit programs aligned to local workforce needs.
- The THECB should administer a competitive grant that provides outcomes bonuses for regional partnerships among feeder high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions. Create a coordinating entity to ensure regional alignment for postsecondary attainment that includes high-quality advising and strong case management to support application, enrollment, and completion, aligned to local workforce demand.