MCALLEN, Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott appears to want the funding universities receive from the state of Texas to be based on whether their students find jobs.

In remarks made recently in the Rio Grande Valley, Abbott praised the work of Texas State Technical College, whose share of state appropriations is based 100 percent on students finding work and the wages or salaries they earn.

“We have a lot of people in this country who have gone to college for one, two, three, four, five, six, seven years, whatever it is and they do not have a job. That is inexcusable,” Abbott said.

“There needs to be a goal for education to provide. And that is a pathway to a job. When you graduate from high school, you need to be prepared to be working towards a job, whether it be going immediately into a job or going to an education institution that will prepare you for a job that is right for you.”

Abbott made his comments in a what was dubbed an “armchair discussion” with businessman Massey Villarreal. The event, held at the McAllen Convention Center, was hosted by the Texas Association of Business (TAB) and the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. Villarreal is vice chairman of the TAB’s board of directors.

“It does not mean that everybody is going to be an engineer or a chemist or a scientist, or a doctor or a lawyer or whatever. It could be that you are keenly interested in the arts. There are a lot of jobs in the arts,” Abbott said.

“So, there are a broad array of different education platforms. It does not matter what the platform is.”

Abbott made clear he is not happy with the way things are in higher education today.

“It is in excusable that we have in the United States so many people who are seeking to have their tuition cost eliminated because they went to school and they don’t have a job and they need the government to pay for their tuition cost,” Abbott said.

“We need education to be focused on making sure people get a job. I know for a fact that is what TSTC does. It is the perfect platform for education. As I understand it, they do not get paid until their student gets a job.”

A number of TSTC officials were in the audience and they were recognized by the governor. He pointed out he had received an honorary degree in welding from TSTC during their 50th anniversary celebrations and proudly received welding gloves and helmet from the college. 

Abbott said it was important to look at education from an employment standpoint.

“When I talk to anybody in the business sector, they are saying one thing, we need more employees. And that means we need to be graduating more students with degrees and certificates for employment. So, our community colleges or specialty colleges like TSTC play an extraordinarily vital role in our state to make sure that we will have an educated workforce,” Abbott said.

“Finally, the four year universities are picking up on this. There has been a dramatic increase in four year universities providing what we call certificates. Certifications of training and skills and skill sets that will be applicable for what employers are actually looking for when you graduate from college.”

Abbott added that apprenticeships are important also. He said such programs can “change the life arc” of a worker. He recalled meeting a woman who had signed up for an apprenticeship in the construction industry. He said the woman went from being homeless to owning her own home.

Cledia R. Hernandez

After the “armchair discussion” was over, the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service interviewed Cledia R. Hernandez, associate vice chancellor of TSTC. Asked how TSTC gets funded by the state, Hernandez said:

“TSTC has been the leader in transitioning to a return on investment, placement, model where 100 percent of our state appropriations are generated off of our students’ placements and the wages that they earn. We have a strategic formula that works and tracks our students for five years after they leave TSTC. And it tracks their wages. And, based off of that, compared to what they would have been making on minimum wage, is how TSTC’s success is measured. And so it truly is making sure the State of Texas and the investment that they are doing in our institutions is giving a return on the investment not only to our students but the State of Texas, as well as the economy for the state.”

Hernandez said TSTC has been functioning under this funding model for five-plus years. “So, we have been able to see the impact we are having not only on our students but the business and industry community as well.”

The esteem in which TSTC is held is evidenced by a partnership the college has developed with Texas A&M University, Hernandez said.

“We were approached by Texas A&M. They wanted all of their engineering bachelor degree seeking students to come to any of the ten TSTC campuses to get an occupational skills award to make them more marketable as an engineer,” Hernandez explained.

“Texas A&M knows we put a high emphasis and focus on the skill and the hands-on experience the students are needing, versus just the theory and academia behind the degree.”

Hernandez said TSTC has been partnering with A&M for about two years now.

“Texas A&M wants to make sure their engineering students are getting the hands-on experience they need to take all that theory that they have learned through their bachelor’s program and be able to apply it in the workforce. It makes the individual more marketable. As well, it helps the employer get a more skilled engineer.”

Asked about the shoutout Gov. Abbott gave TSTC, Hernandez said: “The governor has always been a strong supporter of TSTC and we appreciate his support. One of the things we always say is that we hold ourselves accountable but we also ask the state to hold us accountable, to make sure we are being a good steward to the state of Texas. Our funding formula is one of the ways we are held accountable. The governor knows that and we appreciate the support he has given us.”

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