Texas is thriving economically. We have the ninth largest economy in the world, and our employers are poised to create millions of new jobs in the coming decade, thanks to our favorable business climate.

But our workforce needs are changing, in our communities, across the state, and around the nation and world. More and more jobs require employees to have specific skills they can only get by earning certificates, degrees, and other credentials beyond their high school diplomas.

The competitiveness of our state increasingly depends not only on the number of jobs but also the quality of jobs we create and attract. Texas community colleges play key roles in helping Texans earn the credentials required for good, self-sufficient jobs.

Along with the other members of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance, I have spent the past year looking at this changing economic landscape and how our 50 community colleges can support the state’s workforce.

The Commission quickly recognized two big challenges to meeting these workforce needs and maintaining our economic momentum.

First, outside our state borders, Texas is competing with other states and nations that are facing the same pressures. Those areas are actively investing in workforce education to increase their share of new jobs and economic growth.

Second, inside our borders, the demand for jobs that require post-secondary credentials is highly concentrated in about 10 of our 254 counties — while the potential workforce to fill these jobs is spread across the state, in urban, rural, and suburban areas.

To solve these challenges, being incremental is not enough. We need to be bold.

We need a funding model for our 50 community college districts that is strategic, deliberately aligned with our emerging workforce needs, and that fosters a strong partnership between local community colleges and the state. This new funding model must empower colleges across the state to support local employers who rely on a talented workforce. It must also ensure more Texas students enroll in and complete degrees, certificates, and other credentials that translate into value and opportunity in the state economy.

Our commission believes the new funding model must do three things: reward colleges for positive outcomes, especially in credential completion and transfer, ensure equitable access through financial aid, and help community colleges increase capacity to meet rapidly changing workforce needs.

Chairing this commission and developing these recommendations has been a highlight of my many years of public service. I am honored Governor Greg Abbott asked me to take on this challenging yet important role to help prepare Texas for an even stronger future.

Working with my fellow members — lawmakers, community college leaders, and policy experts — I drew from my decades in business and higher education to better understand Texas community colleges’ opportunities to develop an increasingly talented workforce.

Our goal is for every state dollar for community colleges to be tied to the goals outlined in Building a Talent Strong Texas, the state’s new strategic plan for higher education, and to translate into greater opportunities for individual Texans and more high-performing employees for the workforce. The recommendations in this report are designed to directly support our students, families, colleges, and employers.

As you’ll read throughout this report, Texas’ highest priority must be to develop a competitive workforce for the future. If we can achieve that, it will help us solve the other challenges we will face in the mid-21st Century and secure our quality of life into the future for our children and grandchildren.

Editor’s Note: The above letter was penned by Woody Hunt. He wrote it as chairman of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance (TCCCF) and sent it to the Texas Legislature to coincide with the publication of recommendations by TCCCF to the Legislature. Hunt serves as senior chair of the board of the Hunt Companies. He is the founding chair of the Borderplex Alliance in El Paso, where he now serves on its board of directors. He is also a member and former chair of the Texas Business Leadership Council. He also serves on numerous other civic and non-profit, and professional boards. Hunt can be reached by email via: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The above commentary is the first in a two-part series on the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance. Click here for Part Two.

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