Collaboration with the community will help students and bridge unemployment gap, experts say.
Chancellor Bruce Leslie and state education and workforce experts emphasized on Wednessday the importance of collaboration with the community to bridge the gap in unemployment and ensure seamless transfers to four-year universities.
The Alamo Community College District board of trustees met with representatives from the local public school districts and the Texas Education Agency, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board at a community partnership dinner to rally community members and present the district’s legislative agenda.
The ACCD board meeting and dinner, hosted by St. Philip’s College in the Bowden Alumni Center, was called to order by Anna Bustamante, chairwoman of the district board of trustees.
Leslie presented a slideshow with the ACCD legislative agenda.
Leslie said the goal of this year’s legislative agenda is to bridge the gap in “critical skills” and meet the needs of local businesses large and small.
“The only way to bridge this gap is to make sure we’re collectively pushing the same agenda, one that will meet the needs of higher education, K through 12, the workforce and, of course, students,” Leslie said.
“The missing link between Texas’ rankings and those of higher-ranking states is that those more successful states have policies ensuring seamless transfers between their community colleges and four-year universities,” he said.
Having seamless transfers only when a student receives an associate degree motivates students to finish at the community college level, Leslie said. He added that when community colleges align their curriculums with the needs of the community and the transfer universities, students graduating and transferring are better equipped for bachelor’s degree programs.
To that end, community colleges must collaborate with community partners, local businesses and education experts during active legislative sessions, he said.
Andres Alcantar, Texas Workforce Commission’s chairman, gave a 10-minute speech, stressing the importance of creating jobs and meeting demands of businesses.
“It’s important for institutes of education to keep pace with the changing needs of the workforce. This means keeping up with technology and business policy, as they are quickly evolving,” he said.
Alcantar specifically noted Rackspace as a major business looking to hire native San Antonio graduates.
“The way you can best succeed is keeping your community, the workforce and their needs in the forefront of your thought process when you’re training students. This is how we meet the needs of industries and solve the unemployment problem,” he said.
According to July unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, San Antonio, at 5.2 percent, ranks fifth in the nation among large metropolitan areas.Minneapolis ranks No. 1 at 4.2 percent.
Leslie emphasized the importance of staying competitive, saying, “Once we stop trying to get to the top, we fall to the bottom.”
“The goal is to make the Alamo Community Colleges the best in the nation, pulling Texas to the best in education nationally as well,” Leslie said.
Raymund A. Paredes, commissioner from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said, “We’ve fought mightily since 2000 for degrees at the community college level, and we’ll continue to fight for even more.
“At the board, we understand that community colleges carry the bulk of the weight when it comes to educating and bridging the gap in unemployment. It’s easy to graduate from (the University of Texas) Austin. They don’t let anyone in who hasn’t been prepared for their rigorous program before acceptance. But graduating from a community college is more of a challenge because they’re open admission and required to help students at many different levels of learning.”
Paredes said it’s up to the community and the Legislature to support community colleges, and all institutes of higher education, with funding and resources.
“The problem with the growing economic gap is because we aren’t empowering those at the most disadvantage,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of MyMap,” Leslie said of an ACCD initiative to create guided pathways toward associate degrees and degree programs into transfer universities and more intentional advising models.
“Through MyMap we’ll enforce a more intrusive advising method onto students, because counseling and advising through the college journey is the key to completion,” Leslie said.
Items on the legislative agenda, compiled by the district’s legislative committee, Texas Association of Community Colleges and the Community Colleges Association of Texas Trustees, include aligning the curriculum with skills needed in the workforce. This would require additional funding from the Legislature.
The agenda also calls for:
• additional funding to support collaboration between community colleges and school districts to improve college readiness before high school graduation.
• a statewide policy using a common core numbering system for a seamless transfer between community colleges and transfer universities.
• funding and grants for nontraditional students and adult education.
The district’s full legislative agenda presentation can be found on the district’s website.