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February 15, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities Met at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen

HARLINGEN--The Lieutenant Governor's Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities met at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen on February 15, 2000. Senators on the commission include Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi, Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, Royce West of Dallas, and Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo. Jim Adams of San Antonio is the chairman.

The commission is studying the issues related to higher education in Texas and how the workforce can be trained to make the state a leader in the new economy of the 21st Century. The commission will also try to ensure that Texas employers get the trained workers they need.

Diane Rath of the Texas Workforce Commission was the first invited witness. She told the commission that without a firm commitment to education, Texas cannot continue to develop a skilled workforce. She said Texas needs to be training students for the jobs that are available in their own home areas. Getting a marketable skill may be more important for many secondary students than getting into a four-year college.

Dr. William Segura, the Chancellor of TSTC, testified that technical institutions in the state need to be supplying properly trained graduates, while at the same time determining what professions will need new employees in the future. He said that technical education should never be seen as a second-class alternative to a four-year degree.

Dr. Kem Bennett, Associate Vice Chancellor at the Texas Engineering Extension Service, said his agency provides training in areas as diverse as electronics, construction and wastewater management. In the future, his agency intends to expand into teacher training, to work with dropouts to give them marketable skills and continue training. This will be done to reduce shortages in professions where there are now more jobs than available employees.

John Halton, Assistant Dean at the University of Texas at Austin, described TxTec to the commission. He described it as a consortium of five universities and 12 companies which have come together to ensure an adequate supply of graduates in technical and engineering fields, such as telecommunications.

Dr. Shirley Reed, President of South Texas Community College, described her institution's partnership with local businesses, yet another effort to supply trained employees. She emphasized that students must have basic math and reading skills before technical training can begin. A third of the applicants recently surveyed did not have those skills. However, once that group receives the necessary skills, almost all of them quickly find jobs. She said the state needs a coordinated plan for workforce development that addresses varying problems from funding to child care for students.

Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry then addressed the panel, saying that the work of the panel could very well change Texas forever, saying that its impact on higher education will be felt for many years to come. Senator Eddie Lucio, in whose district the meeting took place, welcomed the panel, saying that the commission needs to come up with a statewide plan to address the needs of higher education statewide.

During the afternoon session, the commission heard from business leaders concerning their experiences with the Texas workforce. James Mitchell, a Vice President with Texas Instruments, mentioned that today's technical graduates can make more money right out of school than their teachers did during their education. He told the commission this situation has led to a serious shortage of teachers when more and more are needed. Another problem is that in some fields, such as engineering, schools like the University of Texas and Texas A&M are simply not world-class, saying, "If you can buy a good football team, you can buy a good staff and faculty at the university."

Bill Junge, Manager of Industrial Training for Temple-Inland, told the commission that better labor market statistics are needed in Texas and that students who will remain in the state should be given preference for admission to Texas institutions.

Kelly Byers, of the Leveraged Engineering Office at DuPont Engineering, said that Texas schools are meeting his company's needs for new employees. He credits this to the co-op and internship plans that DuPont has in place.

Tom Kowalski, President of the Texas Health and Biosciences Institute, told the commission that biotechnology innovations are leading to an entirely new industry here in Texas, one that will be needing additional employees from technical schools as well as four-year colleges. He said this emerging industry will demand highly-educated employees and that the main challenge may be keeping these people in Texas after they finish their education.

Public testimony followed. The commission's next meeting is scheduled for March 23 in Houston.

Click here to listen to the hearing in RealAudio format.

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