The Make It Movement Wants You to Learn a Trade and Love What You Do
Can skilled jobs and career education change Texas culture?
December 27, 2019 | By Brant Bingamon

Click here for full article at The Austin Chronicle.
Click here for full article as a PDF.

. . . Another partner working closely with Make It is the data-crunching nonprofit E3 Alliance. The E3 – Education Equals Economics – Alliance is the top data collector on public education in Texas. E3 shares its findings with schools, businesses, government agencies, and providers of student services to help students succeed. Susan Dawson, the president and executive director of E3, likes to say they’re a “cradle to career” organization, but, like Rhodes, she has a special interest in smoothing the transition for students moving from high school to college.

Speaking with the precision one would expect from an expert on data, Dawson explains her current concern about enrollment in Central Texas colleges and universities. “The one metric that has not improved but in fact has consistently dropped for the last six years is postsecondary enrollment. It’s a huge concern because we have other data that shows that if you don’t have some kind of postsecondary credential within six years of when you graduate high school in Central Texas, you have just a 12 percent likelihood of having a living-wage job.”

Dawson has total recall for data like this. She can tell you off the top of her head that two-thirds of all new jobs require some kind of degree or certification. She can list the many middle-wage jobs that can be had with a two-year degree, including dental hygienist (median annual salary: $78,000), electrical engineering technician (median annual salary: $61,000), and web developer (median annual salary: $69,000).

One of the messages Dawson and Make It are trumpeting is the need for career coaches in high schools. As Dawson explains, high schools already have counselors, but their workloads average 500 students per counselor. “So while they want to help students understand what careers are out there and what college expectations are, they’re also scheduling standardized tests and dealing with mental health and behavioral health issues, and disciplinary referrals, and all sorts of other things.”

Change is on the horizon though. This year, the Texas Workforce Commission began funding what they call a “workforce specialist grant.” These grants, currently in five school districts in Central Texas, put career counselors in high schools and middle schools. The concept could go statewide with money allocated by House Bill 3, the education bill passed this spring, which includes a provision called “College, Career, and Military Readiness Plans.” Dawson said, “If a student by the fall after graduation enrolls in an institution of higher education, enters the military, or receives a career certification from a list that [the Texas Education Agency] manages – if a student hits any of those three – then every low-income student who does that brings back $5,000 to the district. Any non-low-income student brings back $3,000. So you can imagine those dollars add up quickly. It’s an incentive to bring just that kind of person into your school – a career counselor.”

Dawson says the proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to make community college free are great. But things like career coaching are even more important. “The bottom line is that many, many students can access community college essentially free anyway. Because if you’re eligible for a Pell Grant, for instance, that more than pays for the cost of community college. The bigger thing is not just the finances but again that coaching, access to finances, support, so you know how to access getting into college in the first place.”