TSTC-Harlingen President Stella Garcia and Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond met at a Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
TSTC-Harlingen President Stella Garcia and Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond met at a Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

HARLINGEN, RGV – The president of the Texas Association of Business has given a shout out to TSTC and said other four-year institutions, such as UT-Rio Grande Valley, could learn a lot from the technical college.

Bill Hammond said he was impressed with all the Texas State Technical College campuses, including the one in Harlingen, because of the high rate of placements for students leaving college. Indeed, Hammond pointed out that funding for TSTC is based on how well it does in educating students on time and helping them find employment after their coursework is finished.

“Is anyone from TSTC here today?” Hammond asked, while giving a speech at a luncheon hosted by the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce. One person raised a hand – Stella Garcia, president of TSTC-Harlingen. “They are the Gold Standard. These guys are the Gold Standard,” Hammond said, to loud applause from the audience.”

Hammond’s organization has for many years pushed the Legislature to make more of its funding for higher education institutions be based on attainment outcomes, such as students graduating on time. “We asked for just ten percent of funding for four-year schools to be based on outcomes,” Hammond said, of a TAB legislative agenda item this session. The initiative failed to win majority support in the Legislature.

“One 100 percent of their (TSTC) funding from the state is based on job placement. Not graduation, but placement. That is the model for the future and I salute TSTC,” Hammond said. “They do a great job across the state, not just here in the Valley but all over the state and they are very relevant. What they do is they teach kids, young people, for jobs that exist.”

Hammond asked Garcia how many anthropology majors TSTC runs. Garcia said zero. He then asked how many journalism majors TSTC runs. Again, the answer was zero. “What they do, they cater to the needs of the employer, which means the kids are going to be successful. They give them the skills they need to be productive,” Hammond said.

Hammond said he did not want to embarrass Garcia but asked her nonetheless what TSTC’s rate of placement is. Garcia answered 95 percent. “That is pretty good. That is pretty good quality control,” Hammond said. He then looked over to the UTRGV table, which had eight faculty and staff members.  “Listen up, UTRGV. Look at these guys (TSTC). It is not about doubling or tripling the productivity of any four- or two-year college. It is about increasing their productivity year to year over time. That is what we need to do.”

Asked after the speech what she thought of Hammond’s remarks, TSTC’s Garcia said: “It was awesome. We would like to let everybody else know how well we are doing. We are happy and proud to be called the Gold Standard for Higher Ed.”

Garcia said when Hammond started to talk about community colleges in his speech she thought he might “lump us in” with how other community colleges are funded. “I was going to take the opportunity during Q&A to kind of clarify things but he did it for us. So that was great. He has always been a supporter of TSTC so I was happy to see him kind of clarify to the audience that we are funded differently than community colleges. We are not a local taxing entity. We get part of our funding from state appropriations and, as he mentioned, two sessions ago we started doing value-based funding so a student who takes at least nine credit hours with us, they are in the funding formula, whether they graduate or not. They get nine credit hours, we track them for the value-added minimum wage that they have earned, based on the courses that they take with us.”

Garcia said funding for her college is based 100 percent on placement. “So, obviously our programs are intended to be programs that are going to serve Texas industry,” she said. “We are a state agency, we serve the entire state. We have 11 campuses across the state of Texas. Harlingen and Waco are our biggest campuses. All of our programs are very connected with industry. We have advisory committees for each one. They tell us if our program and our curriculum is aligned with what their needs are, what the equipment is, and so we make sure we have that strong connection because we want our students… and a lot of them get hired before they graduate.”

Garcia told the Rio Grande Guardian that TSTC-Harlingen’s placement rate is 95 percent. “What the coordinating board does is they track our graduates. They pull all the folks who graduated in a particular year, they look to match the wage records and they match about 87 percent. And then the rest of them, whether they are with smaller businesses or businesses that are not part of that wage record, we are able to validate and send additional data. With some programs the placement rate is 100 percent and with some it may be less than 95 percent. But, on average our placement is 95 percent.”

The effect of having funding tied to outcomes, Garcia said, is to make TSTC staff work very hard. “It just makes us work harder to get more people placed, so that we can maximize the amount of funding we get.”

The Rio Grande Guardian sought reaction from UTRGV to Hammond’s comments. Patrick Gonzales, assistant vice president for marketing and communications at UTRGV said: “We welcome Bill Hammond to the Rio Grande Valley and appreciate his opinions. Increased access, providing a quality education at a low cost, helping students graduate and, subsequently, obtain well-paying jobs is key to UTRGV. That is why we have unveiled a tuition plan that contains no hidden fees, guarantees rates for both undergraduate and graduate students and that incentivizes progress toward graduation. We also will have more than 300 additional sections available this fall than UTB and UTPA had combined last fall. We have hired and continue to hire highly qualified professors and researchers, and are working with counselors to assure students have all their questions answered and their needs met. Bottom line, we are excited about the new opportunities UTRGV will provide for students and residents of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Hammond was in Harlingen to give a report card on the 84th Legislature. Among the topics covered were taxation and transportation funding. However, a big chunk of his speech, which was given at the Harlingen Community Center, focused on education.

“Not nearly enough of our kids finish. One of the things we have advanced over the years is outcome-based funding for higher education. Two years ago we were successful and now part of the funding for community colleges is based on outcomes. Prior to that legislation they got all their money based on the number of kids sitting in a classroom on the 12th day regardless of whether they finished a course or got a certificate or got a diploma. It made no difference. So, the emphasis was on access,” Hammond told the audience.

“Actually, if you look at the last 15 years in Texas we have done a tremendous job of providing better access to all of our children, minorities in particular. Hispanics, African Americans, attendance at an institution beyond high school is way, way, up. But, it doesn’t really matter unless they get that certificate or degree and they are not getting it in anywhere near the numbers they need to in order for us to be successful.”

Hammond said too many students in Texas go to school, wind up with a lot of debt, and don’t get the skills they need to be effective members of society.

“So, we worked with the community colleges and now some of their funding is going to be based on their outcomes and hopefully that will increase their productivity over time. We tried to do the same with the four-year schools and we were unsuccessful. We have been unsuccessful for three sessions now. Last session, and we supported it, the state of Texas issued bonds, $3.1 billion for construction on campuses across the state and that’s appropriate. But, I think it was unfortunate that the state did not make the decision to enact outcomes-based funding. For us, what it is really about is for legislators and the public to tap the higher education establishment community on the shoulder and say, come on guys, we have got to do better than what we are doing now. And I think that discussion and debate is beginning to have an effect. But, it is not having enough.”

Hammond said that today, in Texas, if one were to exclude Texas A&M University-College Station and UT-Austin, of the kids who enter a four-year public school, only 49 percent of them graduate within six years.

“That does not work for them. It does not work for Texas. And, the numbers at the two-year schools are much worse in terms of a three-year success rate. It is not happening so we need to focus on these things. They (higher education institutions) need to be more customer-oriented. They need to see to it that they (students) are getting proper counseling. You all in Higher Ed, you don’t just hand them (students) the phone book anymore and say, hey, pick out some courses that look good and then when you get to be a senior say, oh by the way, the courses you needed, you cannot get into. I mean, we need to do a better job of orienting that and explaining to them (students) how critically important all of that is so that they finish, that they get the skills they need because if the skilled workforce is not here the jobs will not come here, they will go elsewhere to the detriment of everyone in Texas.”

Interviewed by the Rio Grande Guardian after his speech, Hammond said:

“I believe TSTC has a 95 percent placement rate into jobs for which they claim their students. And all of their funding is based not on graduation but actual placement. So to me that is outcomes-based funding on steroids. We argued with the four-year schools and lost that only ten percent of their funding should be based on the increase in graduation rates, not placement, the graduation rates. So, to me, TSTC, the way they are funded is the ultimate model for funding all post-secondary education.”

Hammond added: “Our point is that all institutions of higher education in Texas today need to do a better job. We don’t expect them to have a 95 percent placement rate but we would like to see the number of kids who graduate increase five or six or seven percent a year over time. That way, if we do that we will meet the goals of what we need in terms of our young folks being educated to fill the jobs that are being created.”