Monday, 450 business, education and civic leaders celebrated successes and focused on key areas for improvement in Central Texas’ education efforts at the Chamber’s ninth annual State of Education.
Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Chair-elect, Bazaarvoice’s Gene Austin, kicked off the event held at the Hilton Austin and Ray Almgren, Vice President of Marketing at National Instruments, was this year’s keynote speaker. Almgren focused on National Instruments’ work with STEM education among children and the importance of technical literacy among Central Texas’ students.
With the growth of the “Internet of things” comes more opportunities to provide hands-on education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Almgren called for more investment in inspiring students to pursue careers in science and engineering. National Instruments partners with FIRST to address this need and Almgren announced the company is also working to bring a FIRST robotics competition to Texas for the 2015/2016 school year.
Continuing the theme of preparedness, David Reiter, 2014 Education Chair for the Chamber and Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Luminex, discussed the two major community challenges facing Central Texas’ education efforts today: High school and college student computer science course completion and Direct-to-college enrollment rates.
Central Texas Today
In the Chamber’s annual interviews of nearly 400 of the region’s CEOs and top executives, a top issue for their companies is if they will have access to the talent they need to remain globally competitive. If Austin loses its tech company edge, our quality of life will decrease…just like it did in the semiconductor bust of 2002.
Today, Central Texas employers have 7,400 jobs openings in computer science. However, only 3% of Central Texas high school graduates — or fewer than 500 students region wide — completed even on computer science course last year.
Last year, region-wide, Central Texas universities and community colleges only graduated 600 people in computer science out of 130,000 students.
So, how do we address tech talent in our region and continue to grow great jobs …and keep our companies competitive? We need to start with a well-rounded academic course of study. This year, 15 area school districts and charter schools adopted policy to ensure all entering ninth grade students are enrolled on the Distinguished high school graduation plan. This means 80% of these graduates will be exposed to algebra II, biology, chemistry, physics…all the critical building blocks in our high tech workplace. The Chamber encourages other school districts not currently participating to join the rest of the region in this effort.
We also need to grow the percent of students interested in computer sciences. To assist with this goal, the Chamber:
- Releases a monthly “Where the Jobs Are” report .
- Trains dozens of local high school counselors so they understand where Austin’s top jobs are currently.
- Works with Fort Hood to make Austin the top destination for its 8-10,000 exiting heroes — most of whom have STEM or health care backgrounds.
- Works with ACC to develop needed training and certificate programs to prepare our available workforce — In January, the Chamber created a JAVA computer programming 8-month course with ACC that attracted 400 students.
- Develops pilot programs, such as the Chamber’s effort to connect 100 tech employees with 4,000 10th grade students to discuss where the jobs are in Austin right before the students schedule their 11th grade courses.
Direct-to-College Enrollment Rates: A Pressing Need
Nearly a decade ago, the Chamber and community partners launched a regional performance management plan to increase higher education enrollment by 30% in 48 months — and we succeeded.
The collective work of this partnership has been recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Committee for Economic Development and this summer, we won the 2014 Regional Innovation Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.
This year, we’ve accomplished:
- Counseling 2.0. Under the leadership of the Chamber College Readiness Educator Support Team (CREST), led by Austin ISD Chief Schools Officer Edmund Oropez and Director of Guidance and Counseling for Hays CISD Charlotte Winkelmann, the Chamber unveiled Counseling 2.0, a combination of high-quality counseling blended with data-driven support. Students can elect to receive reminders for college application deadlines, targeted help for college readiness, and financial aid application assistance. Counselors receive each student’s college interest data and a profile of whether the student understands the importance of early financial aid submission to help make counselors’ efforts more effective.
- ApplyTexas. Armed with this real-time data, counselors have increased ApplyTexas submission rates through one-on-one work with students and families. 84% of the Class of 2014 completed the Texas Common Application, a great achievement.
- FAFSA. The Chamber understands we can’t affect college enrollment without addressing financial aid. This year alone, the Chamber invested $150,000 to positively affect submission rates across the region. 43% of the Class of 2014 submitted the FAFSA by the end of Q1 (a 100% increase over 2006) and 57% of the class submitted the application by the end of August — the best performance of any region in the state of Texas. As a result, sixty-six million more dollars in financial aid was awarded to Central Texas 2014 graduates than the Class of 2006.
- College Readiness. This year, nearly 60% of Central Texas seniors graduated college and career ready, up from 53% in 2008. However, 7,000 of today’s high school seniors are not college ready, and only a handful of them are enrolled in any college preparation course. For the first time in two decades, Texas has no systematic way to assess whether each of today’s or tomorrow’s rising seniors are college ready. Chamber CEO Mike Rollins wrote to each superintendent in August asking them to counsel each non-college ready senior on the value of taking a free college prep course and to ensure that each junior be assessed using the ACT, SAT or the state’s TSI measure to determine their college readiness by January. The Chamber Board also called on the Texas Legislature to eliminate the remaining five end-of-course graduation tests and instead replace them with the expectation that a student “pass” either the ACT, SAT or the state’s TSI to graduate.
Here’s the tough news. Even with improved application, FAFSA and college/career readiness rates, direct-to-college enrollment rates went down slightly for the second straight year. So, how can we do better?
First, superintendents and trustees need to make improving direct-to-college enrollment rates a “Top Three Agenda Item.” Set a target in your district’s Progress Report. Include it in your own evaluation…in your high school principals evaluations. Ensure you have strategies to meet this goal.
Second, the Texas Legislature needs to take a serious look at college affordability. The percentage of our high school graduates on some kind of price-supported lunch increased from 20% to 30% in just the last five years.
Our city cannot succeed without talent — specifically, tech talent. The jobs are here, we just need to focus our efforts on preparing our current and future workforce.
Read more about this year’s State of Education in the Austin American- Statesman and Community Impact.