McALLEN, RGV- RGV Focus has welcomed a decision by three state agencies to award funds to build two career and technical education early college high schools in the Rio Grande Valley.

South Texas College partnered Mission CISD and Weslaco ISD to apply for the education-to-workforce grants. The grants were awarded jointly by the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission.

The three agencies each committed $1 million to support partnerships between local school districts and community colleges to create career and technical education opportunities that help students simultaneously earn a high school diploma and a postsecondary credential aligned with a critical community workforce need.

“We are very excited about the partnership between South Texas College, Mission, and Weslaco to develop career and technical education early college high schools focused on preparing students for careers in high-demand/high-wage occupations,” Luzelma Canales, executive director of RGV Focus, told the Guardian.

South Texas College President Shirley Reed says two new Career and Technical Education Early College High Schools will be a pathway for students to high-wage, meaningful careers.
South Texas College President Shirley Reed says two new Career and Technical Education Early College High Schools will be a pathway for students to high-wage, meaningful careers.

“The RGV has a long standing history of strong partnerships. We commend the leadership in these institutions for stepping up to the challenge of designing programs and services that will serve our students, community, and workforce needs.”

RGV Focus is a local education organization which focuses on collaboration.

“STC’s ‘Dual2Careers’ strategy is paying off in highly contributing to an increased educational attainment level in the RGV,” Canales added. “We are excited about this partnership and stand ready to support our STC, Mission, and Weslaco as they move towards implementation of this very excited school design. This is a win-win for our community.”

In a news release, TEA, THECB and TWC said they committed funding to support “innovate education partnerships” between local school districts and public community or technical colleges. The idea is to “allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and a postsecondary credential that prepares them to enter high-skill, high-demand workforce fields.”

The three state agencies received 21 proposals from community colleges and their high school partners. In the first round of funding, TEA, THECB and TWC agreed to fund initiatives at South Texas College, Eastfield College in Dallas, Houston Community College Coleman, and Odessa College.

At the two STC career and technical education early college high schools, one in Mission and the other in Weslaco, the proposed programs of study will include welding, diesel mechanics, and, in the field of precision manufacturing, computer controlled machine tool operator.

“Our 24 early college high schools focused on academics and are incredibly successful with large numbers of high school graduates also earning an associate degree,” said STC President Shirley Reed. “The CTE Early College High Schools will align dual enrollment with the career pathway requirements of HB 5 and provide a pathway to high-wage, meaningful careers.”

At press time, Mission CISD and Weslaco ISD had not responded to requests for comment on the successful grant application.

The leaders of the three state agencies did comment on their unprecedented partnership. They have been traveling the state to hear from public education, higher education, business and economic development leaders.

“Knowing that more than half of the jobs available to new and recent graduates today require some sort of postsecondary education, our state needs new and different pathways for Texas students that emphasize the close ties between college and career readiness,” said TEA Commissioner Michael Williams. ”These pilot programs, and others like them, can provide a roadmap for additional innovative partnerships and opportunities for Texas students.”

Williams said the goal of the CTE ECHS programs is to enable students to be immediately employable by providing them with job skills and an opportunity to earn stackable credentials that include Level II certificates, at least 60 credit hours toward an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree or an AAS degree.

THECB Commissioner Ray Perades said each proposal required close collaboration among local school districts, colleges and regional employers to ensure the highest degree of academic and technical rigor and establish strong alignment between proposed programs and local workforce needs.

“These particular early college high schools with a focus on career and technical education will provide new opportunities for students to be prepared to enter the skilled workforce upon high school graduation,” Paredes said. ”Earning college credit while in high school also helps students save money and offers them early exposure to the types of environments they’ll encounter in the workplace.”

TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar said the CTE ECHS grant program is a reflection of what the three agency leaders have learned as they have conducted regional workforce and education forums across the state.

“Encouraging leaders from across Texas to foster and enhance innovative partnerships among school districts, higher education institutions and employers will better prepare students for high demand occupations,” Alcantar said. “We are committed to working together and with local partners to implement innovative education and workforce strategies that strengthen the education and workforce outcomes for our students.”

News that STC, working with Mission CISD and Weslaco ISD, has been successful with its grant application is likely to please groups like the South Texas Manufacturers Association and the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. These groups say big manufacturing projects will only come to the Valley if there is a skilled workforce to sustain them.