MCALLEN, Texas – When, just over a year ago, Ricardo Solis took over as president of South Texas College he promised to be bold and to take risks.

Solis now says he may have found the boldest of new initiatives: placing a much bigger emphasis on apprenticeship programs at STC.

Speaking at his college’s Inaugural South Texas Apprenticeship Summit, Solis said apprenticeships may not be the road to go down for other higher education institutions. But, he argued, with the way the world economy has changed, with supply chain disruption forcing globalization to morph into regionalization, STC has to be nimble.   

“I’m no stranger to pushing the envelope and putting people on the line and talking the truth, the hard truth and the reality that we are experiencing today,” Solis said. “All of us know that the solution and response to this whole economic situation that we’re having, the workforce shortages… we all know that the solution is education, and specialized higher education.”

Solis said some people in the world of higher education may not want to hear what he has to say. However, he said has to say it because it is the truth.

“I keep on saying this because it is the truth: community colleges, our mission, is becoming more relevant now than ever,” Solis said. “I know we have universities but that system is a model that’s a couple of centuries old. What does that say?”

Speaking of the importance and relevance of community colleges, Solis said: “We are changing the trajectory because in addition to being the greatest equalizer for humanity and for the community, giving opportunities, this is what the community college does. What other institution can move so rapidly, so quickly than the community college? And this is what we’re doing today.”

Julian Alvarez, labor representative on the Texas Workforce Commission, also spoke at the apprenticeship summit. Solis was eager to hear Alvarez announce that STC had received federal approval for a first-of-its-kind Nursing Apprenticeship Program. However, Alvarez said, that had to wait because he had not yet received the official thumbs-up.

“This is a great solution. It’s a great alternative. And we’re very excited about this because this is going to create many opportunities for the entire Valley,” Solis said of the Nursing Apprenticeship Program. 

Solis said he wished he had the opportunity to sign up for an apprenticeship when he studied at college. 

“Can you imagine? Many of us that went to college, we never had that opportunity. To have an internship is one thing… but an apprenticeship, where you’re getting paid to go to school and also being in the workforce and also having people giving you advice, mentors, and most importantly getting a credit? Imagine all those those five elements together. We never had that. We did not dream of that. We went through the old way, the old, archaic, way of university where you go for five years, sometimes six years, and then we finish university and then we start all over again.”

Solis recalled that when he finished university with an MBA he did not have experience to go into the workforce. He said he remembers being told: ‘You have all these degrees, but you have no experience.’

“This is what exactly the apprenticeship is doing. And we’re so lucky that we’re putting this on the forefront. Yes, we’re pushing the envelope. Yes, we’re going against the grain. And I realize that it is very difficult for many other organizations to accept that. Basically universities, because it’s a different program. It’s a different model. But now, with this whole world economy taking place, clearly the proof is there.”

Solis said the impact the pandemic has had on the economy has accelerated the need for apprenticeship programs. However, he said their expansion should have been happening before then. 

“This is something way overdue,” Solis said. “The model of apprenticeships should have been done a long time ago.”

Solis said there are now thousands of students that are not going to college or universities. “Many are working because there’s so much demand… which is a good thing, which is why our unemployment is so low right now. But, that’s a short term situation.” He said the answer is for colleges like STC to help students rapidly up-skill and re-skill.

“We’re going to have to double up on our skilled workforce,” Solis said. 

“But that’s what the beauty is about higher education, especially with (a) community college. We’re constantly changing, we’re evolving, and we’re able to shift immediately. And that’s what we’re going to be doing because these are exciting times. But, we have to constantly shift and change and be ready to change and adapt to the new changes. That’s going to be the key.”

Here is a video recording of Dr. Solis’ speech at STC’s Inaugural South Texas Apprenticeship Summit:

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