By Nora de Hoyos Comstock (far left), ACC Trustee and former President and CEO of Las Comadres para las Americas, and Allison Brandt, Director of CareerHound.org. Nora and Allison are co-chairs of the Awareness Campaign, one of the top priorities that emerged from E3’s 2019 community dialogues around postsecondary success for Central Texas students.
Walking into the room at the ACC Highland Business Center in September was electric. Seeing how many people felt the same passion as we do – enough to show up on a Saturday morning to tackle this – was energizing. The wide range of agencies, organizations, colleges and school districts represented further galvanized the excitement. Clearly, the goal to create a stronger skilled workforce, while lifting up Central Texas’ low-income students through higher education credentials, must be a priority.
Several months prior, E3 Alliance hosted community conversation in five areas around the Central Texas community to discuss with parents, students, educators, and leaders about the obstacles limiting student success after high school. During these two-day events, those of us who participated explored the important connection between education needed after graduation and career pathways. We identified ways our students can overcome obstacles and create more opportunities.
During those community dialogues, E3 asked for participants to sign up as delegates and take the outcomes from those discussions to the next level. Fast forward to that captivating Saturday morning at ACC. The room was full of these delegates along with education and business leaders. Conversations at the breakout tables were robust. We agreed and disagreed, shared stories, pointed out problems and solutions, and made the case for our top priorities. Through this process, we committed to areas that we felt the strongest about, could best contribute to and keep us accountable. These deliberative dialogues could not have come at a more critical and advantageous time.
The Urgency in Central Texas
The data that E3 supplied around the question: are the Central Texas students prepared for the future was alarming and should concern everyone in our region.
- Two-thirds of jobs by 2020 will require some postsecondary credential
- Only 14% of our low-income Central Texas students complete a postsecondary credential within six years of leaving high-school
- Young adults without a postsecondary credential within six years of leaving high school have just a 12% chance of earning a living wage
This is a wake-up call! Now is the time to tackle this issue for the younger generations in our community. We need to define the meaning of college. We must show that college doesn’t only mean a four-year degree. Two-year degrees and skills training and certifications are worthy and affordable options. We must show parents, caregivers and students that there is help to pay for these postsecondary pathways. We must communicate the message as early as elementary age all the way through high school and into young adulthood.
We also must bring in the business community and local industry. We must ensure students feel welcomed into higher education institutions (two and four year). We must ensure they have access to the many wrap-around services in a one-stop shop portal. This includes easy access to mentors that can counsel students through the process. First-generation students and their families must know they are not alone in this process. We must meet every student where they are and throw open the doors to the many different pathways possible.
Rallying Together as a Community
As the metro Austin area continues its economic boom, the population continues to explode, and the cost of living reaches exorbitant levels, the timing of these efforts is critical. We must not leave any one behind. Employers need a skilled labor force, and individuals need secure futures.
Action steps from work conducted on that Saturday morning are underway. We identified three key areas to act on now: an Awareness Campaign, Resource Collections and Mentorships. Volunteers and representatives from organizations across the region are hard at work joining forces on a communications plan, a single resource site, and a mentorship strategy. With efforts by the City of Austin, Austin Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Solutions and many other groups well underway, the timing is spot-on.
Our goal is for all students to succeed, and our hope is to create a generational shift so that families see this true definition of college as a place for all kinds of opportunities to suit all kinds of learners. We want students to feel confident that when they embark on their postsecondary journey they have a deep-rooted knowledge base and know where to turn for financial and intellectual support.