In Texas, as nationwide, community colleges are an essential tool, a key for unlocking the talent the state will need to remain dynamic and competitive in the years ahead.
Reform-minded Texans seeking to enhance and elevate community college workforce education face a variety of challenges.
The state’s two-year institutions vary widely, some flush with funding, others just managing to keep their doors open. In Texas, as in many states, community colleges struggle to balance two disparate missions, preparing students for the workplace and for future higher education, and Texas reformers inherit a system skewed toward academic preparation.
Texas community college graduation and transfer rates remain disappointing, and although underrepresented minority students are catching up on many metrics, they still lag behind non-Hispanic white students on other important measures, including transfers to four-year colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, in Texas as nationwide, the age range of the students attending community college—always broader than the range at four-year institutions—is expanding dramatically, with dual credit high school students and midcareer adults accounting for a growing share of the student body. Both groups bring new challenges and distinctive needs, particularly for workforce educators.
But Texans seeking to strengthen community college workforce education also build on an array of advantages: a distinctive Texas governance model, robust employer engagement with colleges across the state and two decades of innovation, including funding mechanisms now well-entrenched and viewed as models by educators nationwide.
All eyes will be on Texas in the months ahead as the Legislature considers the recommendations of the Community College Finance Commission and the higher education coordinating board unveils data disaggregating statewide credential attainment by race and ethnicity. The Legislature will then have an opportunity to overhaul the community college business model, revamping and refitting the system to respond to the needs of the 21st century economy.
The challenges are sure to be steep. There remains much to be done to produce more equitable educational outcomes and deliver the workers the state will need as economic growth accelerates in the years ahead. But Texas is ideally positioned to build on its existing framework and go the next mile, showing the way for educators nationwide as it unlocks the potential of one of the state’s most important institutions.