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As demand for skilled workers rises in Texas, work-based educational programs see a resurgence

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As demand for skilled workers rises in Texas, work-based educational programs see a resurgence

As demand for skilled workers rises in Texas, work-based educational programs see a resurgence” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A warehouse manager in Waco went from earning about $9 an hour to earning more than $140,000 a year, thanks to an associate degree.

In College Station, a student with a developmental disability worked at an animal hospital through a college program tailored to her needs.

And in Austin, a call center worker was paid by her employer to go to college so she could be promoted to a medical assistant position.

In these instances, the students pursued associate degrees, alternative college programs and industry certifications that offer Texans the chance to expand their career options and their salary potential in a state hungry for more qualified workers.

[Texans have many educational credentials to choose from to begin a career. Here's how to navigate them.]

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More than half of jobs in the state require a credential higher than a high school diploma but lower than a bachelor's degree, according to a report from July 2022. It's one reason the state is aiming for 60% of Texans ages 25 to 64 to have a certificate or degree by 2030. But just 45% of Texans have the right training for these middle-skilled jobs.

These college and career programs are far more varied than they used to be. Today, Texans across the state are learning everything from computer-aided design and drafting to piloting aircraft through associate degree or certificate programs — and they'll likely make more money because of it.

Career and technical education

[Texas colleges provide job training for students with disabilities. Here's how to access it.]

Initiatives helping students to enter the workforce quickly aren't new, but there is a new focus on equity. To better serve students, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds, higher education leaders are moving to create shorter or earlier career and technical education opportunities that meet industry standards while offering high school and college students with pathways to bachelor's and advanced degrees.

This is a marked difference from the history of vocational programs, in which students of color and women were often placed into high school job training classes that offered no pathway to college.

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A movement to help all students go to college emerged in the 1990s, said Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a senior fellow at the National Skills Coalition, a policy and advocacy organization. But with increasing awareness of student debt in the 2000s and greater interest among students and employers in technical education, vocational programs reemerged and evolved into what is now known as career and technical education.

Grounded aircraft sit inside the Maintenance Hanger where students learn to fix mechanical issues at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022.
Grounded aircraft sit inside Texas State Technical College's Maintenance Hanger in Waco, where students learn to fix mechanical issues on Oct. 24, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

The rise of these programs partially stems from industries and jobs increasingly requiring specialized licenses or credentials, even if it's not a college degree. For students, these programs are attractive because they allow them to get hands-on practice and, in some cases, paid work experience as they work toward a credential. This can be particularly beneficial for working adults or parents with less time and resources to seek a four-year degree, Bergson-Shilcock said.

Bachelor's and more advanced degrees generally have a greater financial payoff, but people with two-year associate degrees and certificates in highly technical and in-demand fields, such as engineering technologies, can earn more than people with bachelor's degrees in some lower-paying industries.

Texas has long invested in work-based education, but “that ramped up over the last couple of legislative sessions as the value of things like apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities became clear,” said Renzo Soto, a higher education policy adviser for Texas 2036, a nonprofit research organization.

Over the last decade, state lawmakers have largely emphasized career preparation in public schools and aligning school curriculum with college tracks and the workforce needs in each region of the state, Soto said.

During the regular legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed legislation to fund community colleges based on whether their students leave with a degree or credential that gets them a well-paying job or into a four-year institution. Right now, Texas State Technical College is the only Texas college that the state specifically funds based on the employment and earnings of its students and graduates, rather than based on the number of hours they are taught. The funding change is expected to go into effect in September.

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Technical colleges and careers

In a room filled with rows of yellow robotic arms, students at TSTC's Waco campus used computers to try to command the arms to read whether a black cutout in front of it was the right size and shape.

Manufacturers use such a process to ensure that the right bolt, screw or item is used to make a product. But this isn't a factory. It's a step toward high-paying jobs in manufacturing, production or warehouse operations.

More than two decades ago, Corey Mayo was a warehouse manager, earning about $9 an hour to support his wife and daughter.

“It just wasn't cutting it for baby formula, diapers, food,” said Mayo, now 48.

So he enrolled at Texas State Technical College to study instrumentation and completed an associate degree in robotics. After more than a decade in the industry, traveling to manufacturing facilities to implement automated operations, he said he earned roughly $140,000 a year because of his ability to “fix anything in a short amount of time.”

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“It's because of everything that I learned here,” he said.

Now, as an instructor of robotics technology at TSTC, he's helping other students enter a job that's expected to grow by 12% in Texas while declining nationally.

And Mayo's 23-year-old son, Dalton, is following in his footsteps and studying robotics technology. He too would like to enter a high-paying field.

Justin Meckle, a fourth-semester Robotics student at the Texas State Technical College in Waco, works on a troubleshooting assignment during class on Oct. 24, 2022.
Justin Meckle, a fourth-semester Robotics student at the Texas State Technical College in Waco, works on a troubleshooting assignment during class on Oct. 24, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022.
TKTKT at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
Jule Preiser, a fourth-semester Robotics student at the Texas State Technical College in Waco, works on a troubleshooting assignment during class on Oct. 24, 2022. Students were given no specific instruction - much like how you might be given a problem if out in the field - and tasked with finding a solution through their own problem solving skills.
Jule Preiser, a fourth-semester Robotics student at the Texas State Technical College in Waco, works on a troubleshooting assignment during class on Oct. 24, 2022. Students were given no specific instruction – much like how you might be given a problem if out in the field – and tasked with finding a solution through their own problem solving skills. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: Justin Meckle, a fourth-semester robotics student at Texas State Technical College in Waco, works on a troubleshooting assignment during class on Oct. 24, 2022. Second: A sign for the college at the entrance of Texas State Technical College in Waco. Last: Jule Preiser, a fourth-semester robotics student, works on an assignment. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
From left: Dalton Mayo, a fourth-semester Robotics student at the Texas State Technical College in Waco, stands with his father, Corey Mayo, who serves as the Lead Instructor for Robotics and Industrial Controls Technology inside their classroom on Oct. 24, 2022. Mayo decided to pursue a technical career path like his father.
From left: Dalton Mayo, a fourth-semester robotics student at Texas State Technical College in Waco, stands with his father, Corey Mayo, who serves as the school's lead instructor for robotics and industrial controls technology in their classroom on Oct. 24, 2022. Mayo decided to pursue a technical career path like his father. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

Stories like theirs are not uncommon at the college, which hires instructors from its graduate pool and sees many families return to the college for its hands-on and fast-tracked programs. The 20-month-long program for an associate degree of applied science in robotics and industrial controls technology costs around $11,640, and a 16-month certificate costs $6,984, according to TSTC. The average wage for an electro-mechanic or robotics technician is about $50,630 in Texas and $60,570 in the U.S., according to federal data.

The college also offers programs for various job fields expected to continue growing, such as cybersecurity and aircraft pilot training.

The aircraft pilot training program is one of the college's more expensive programs, but pilot pay is on the higher end with average salaries in Texas of more than $180,060 for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers and $108,120 for commercial pilots. Tuition and fees for an associate degree in the program are $11,160, but the flight fees bring up the total to an estimated $89,260. Jobs are expected to grow by 21% for commercial pilots and by 14% for airline pilots and engineers in Texas.

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The college also hires some of its graduates to serve as certified flight instructors while they work toward the required hours and ratings needed to work as a pilot in other roles.

“I'm already making back money and I'm already paying off my loans,” said Elaine Polster, a 22-year-old recent graduate who is now a certified flight instructor for the college. “If I went to a four-year school, it would be two more years until I did that.”

Associate degrees in applied science, which have a focus on technical education, and certificates are also available at community colleges across the state and through private, for-profit and nonprofit institutions. Examples of other public colleges include Alamo Colleges, Blinn College, San Jacinto College and Dallas College. You can find private technical schools through the Texas Workforce Commission's directory. Financial aid, scholarships or other help may also be available for associate degrees and qualifying certificates.

You can also read more in our guide to college programs and financial aid.

A flight instructor speaks about the benefit of having the Redbird flight simulations for students at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022.
A flight instructor speaks about the benefit of having the Redbird flight simulations for students at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
Students training to become pilots sit in class and watch a video about navigating runway terminology at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022.
Students training to become pilots sit in class and watch a about navigating runway terminology at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
The interior of a Redbird flight simulation at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022. Students training to become pilots are able to practice in the program without having to leave the ground.
The interior of a Redbird flight simulation at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022. Students training to become pilots are able to practice in the program without having to leave the ground. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: A flight instructor speaks about the benefit of Redbird flight simulations for students at Texas State Technical College in Waco. Second: Students training to become pilots sit in class and watch a video about runway terminology. Last: The interior of a Redbird flight simulator. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
Elaine Polster, a recent graduate of the pilot program and incoming Certified Flight Instructor, stands inside the Maintenance Hanger where students learn to fix mechanical issues on grounded aircraft at the Texas State Technical College in Waco on Oct. 24, 2022.
Elaine Polster, a recent graduate of the pilot program and incoming Certified Flight Instructor, stands inside TSTC's Maintenance Hanger on Oct. 24, 2022, where students learn to fix mechanical issues on grounded aircraft. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

Apprenticeships

On a Tuesday morning in October, Nora Hernandez Mondragon practiced carefully placing patches on the chest, arms and legs of a classmate lying in a medical examination bed.

The patches, which connect to a tangle of 10 wires, require precise placement to record the heart's electrical activity in an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to detect irregular heart rhythms and heart attacks.

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It's one of the many things she learned at the Austin Community College's San Gabriel Campus in Leander over nine weeks. She also learned basic medical terminology and anatomy; how to check a patient's blood pressure and vital signs; how to administer medicines, including through an injection; and how to draw blood — all without paying a dime.

“It's the perfect situation,” said Hernandez Mondragon, a 34-year-old Austin resident who worked at a call center for Baylor Scott & White . “I get to go learn something and develop myself and still be making income for my family.”

Mallory French examines the results of an EKG that she performed at Austin Community College's Leander Campus on Oct. 4. French and other students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees.
Mallory French examines the results of an EKG that she performed at Austin Community College's Leander Campus on Oct. 4. French and other students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees. Credit: Jack Myer for The Texas Tribune
Jennifer Waldron, a Continuing Education instructor at Austin Community College, shows students where to put the electrodes when doing an EKG at ACC's Leander campus on Oct. 4. The students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees.
Jennifer Waldron, a Continuing Education instructor at Austin Community College, shows students where to put the electrodes when doing an EKG at ACC's Leander campus on Oct. 4. The students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees. Credit: Jack Myer for The Texas Tribune
Mallory French connects a lead wire to an electrode on Violet Fields' left leg while doing an EKG at Austin Community College's Leander Campus on Oct. 4. The students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees.
Mallory French connects a lead wire to an electrode on Violet Fields' left leg while doing an EKG at Austin Community College's Leander Campus on Oct. 4. The students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees. Credit: Jack Myer for The Texas Tribune
First: Mallory French examines the results of an EKG that she performed at Austin Community College's Leander Campus on Oct. 4. Second: Jennifer Waldron, a continuing education instructor at Austin Community College, shows students where to put the electrodes when doing an EKG. Last: French connects a lead wire to an electrode on Violet Fields' leg while performing an EKG. Credit: Jack Myer for The Texas Tribune
Nora Hernandez-Mondragon measures 21-year-old Violet Fields' blood pressure during class at the Leander Campus of Austin Community College on Oct. 4. The students were participating in a healthcare apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees.
Nora Hernandez Mondragon measures 21-year-old Violet Fields' blood pressure during class at the Leander Campus of Austin Community College on Oct. 4. The students were participating in a health care apprenticeship program for Baylor Scott & White employees. Credit: Jack Myer for The Texas Tribune

That's because Hernandez Mondragon and her five classmates are part of a Baylor Scott & White apprenticeship. Through the program, employees can take an accelerated course at ACC and get hands-on experience to become medical assistants.

“Me being a mom, I would love to go to school but I don't have the time or the money,” said Hernandez Mondragon, who is raising four children.

After completing the course and 160 hours of work in a clinical setting, Hernandez Mondragon and her classmates will work as medical assistants at Baylor Scott & White Health's local clinics or hospitals for at least two years. The new job also comes with a pay raise, Hernandez Mondragon said.

Though this program serves Baylor Scott & White employees specifically, it's one of a number of apprenticeships at ACC and across Texas.

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In apprenticeships, individuals get the opportunity to learn and work toward a career, similar to an internship. But apprenticeships are typically longer than internships, include paid work and provide individuals with specialized skills and credentials.

Apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship training programs can be offered by companies on their own, unions, trade associations, nonprofits and other organizations. Many apprenticeships focus on trades, but a number of programs are opening more opportunities in growing job fields like health care and tech.

Texans interested in an apprenticeship can look for one through a college, a local job center such as Workforce Solutions or the U.S. Department of Labor's website, apprenticeship.gov.

Workforce training programs

“I'm locking the chair,” 22-year-old Sydney Hodge said as she practiced locking a wheelchair in place at the front of the classroom. Joe Tate, the class instructor, was sitting in the chair.

“Good. Remember, guys, communicate. The more communication, the better,” he told the handful of other students watching.

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Then, Hodge helped Tate get out of the wheelchair, holding a gait belt around his upper waist and letting him place his hands on her shoulders for support as he slowly rose. The rest of the class clapped.

Hodge and her classmates were reviewing how to work as personal care attendants. Earlier that day, they discussed different types of bedpans and the organizations that support people with disabilities.

22-year-old Sydney Hodge, right, demonstrates how to use a gait belt, an assistive device used to transfer a person into or out of a wheelchair, on her teacher and E4 Youth program manager Joe Tate in the Biomedical Engineering building at UT Austin on Nov. 29, 2022. The students were part of a workforce development program at UT Austin called E4 Texas, an inclusive job training program open to students with developmental disabilities.
Sydney Hodge, 22, at right, demonstrates how to use a gait belt, an assistive device used to transfer a person into or out of a wheelchair, on her teacher and E4 Youth program manager Joe Tate in the Biomedical Engineering building at the University of Texas at Austin on Nov. 29, 2022. The students were part of a workforce development program at UT Austin called E4 Texas, an inclusive job training program open to students with developmental disabilities. Credit: Jack Myer for The Texas Tribune

The class is part of the E4Texas program at the University of Texas at Austin. It prepares students for jobs as personal care attendants, child care workers or teaching assistants. The program is designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, but is also open to people without a disability.

The students also live on campus and get support from program staff to live independently and participate in the community, said Tate, E4's program manager.

During the three-semester program, students take specialized classes at UT-Austin's campus, audit other UT courses, volunteer and get work experience. Hodge and her classmate Ayala Montgomery, for example, have been helping care for elderly people as volunteers at AGE of Central Texas.

24-year-old Elaina Bautista volunteers at AGE of Central Texas in Austin, Texas on December 2, 2022. Bautista was part of a workforce development program at UT Austin called E4 Texas, an inclusive job training program open to students with developmental disabilities.
Elaina Bautista, 24, volunteers at AGE of Central Texas in Austin on Dec. 2, 2022. Bautista was part of a workforce development program at UT Austin called E4 Texas, an inclusive job training program open to students with developmental disabilities. Credit: Jack Myer for the Texas Tribune

At the end, students receive a certificate of completion and can get job certifications, but they do not get college credits.

The program also teaches students to advocate for themselves and others. That's one of the things that drew Montgomery.

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“I also wanted to help people that actually struggle with disabilities, like to let them know that ‘you're not alone, and there's many people just like you that struggle with the same things day to day,'” said Montgomery, a 20-year-old from Dallas. “I wanted to leave an impact.”

There are other job preparation programs, including for people with disabilities. And if a program is approved by the Texas Workforce Commission, qualifying students may get help covering the program costs.

Texans interested in exploring job preparation programs can learn more and view approved program providers through the Texas Workforce Commission or reach out to local Workforce Solutions centers.

College for students with developmental disabilities

After sending a quick email, Julia Gault turned to work on a PowerPoint presentation she was making for her class. She pointed to images of animals and skateboards on the slides.

“So this is like when I graduate, I want to work at a vet clinic,” she said. “I skateboard, so I put my skateboards.”

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Sitting next to Gault during a study hall period at Texas A&M University, Callie Colgrove said, “I want to own my own bakery,” showing off her own PowerPoint. She's Gault's best friend and roommate.

The two met through Aggie ACHIEVE, the university's program designed for students with intellectual disabilities or autism to live independently, experience college and prepare for jobs.

Through the interdisciplinary program, students can take select noncredit courses and physical education courses and participate in student life at A&M. The students have access to graduate assistants who help them navigate classes and live on their own.

Initially, students live on campus. They get a residential mentor who spends five to nine hours a week with them during their freshman year, said Heather Dulas, the program director. As juniors, the students move off campus and can live on their own, though many have chosen to live together as roommates or in the same apartment complex. At the end, students receive a certificate from the university.

The transition was an adjustment for Gault, like for any college student, but through Aggie ACHIEVE she learned how to navigate her schedule and chores, like doing her laundry. Now, she works at an animal hospital, she said, and Colgrove works in the kitchen of a hotel and has baked chocolate pies.

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Effrosyni Chatzistogianni, an academic graduate assistant with the Aggie ACHIEVE program helps Matthew Philips, a junior in the program, during an office hours at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022. Aggie ACHIEVE is a comprehensive transition program (CTP) for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who have exited high school.
Effrosyni Chatzistogianni, an academic graduate assistant with the Aggie ACHIEVE program helps Matthew Philips, a junior in the program, during an office hours at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022. Aggie ACHIEVE is a comprehensive transition program (CTP) for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who have exited high school. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
Students walk to class on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022.
Students walk to class on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
A list of available course to students in the Aggie ACHIEVE program at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022. Students take one non-credit course per semester, as well as a Physical Education non-credit course, while they pursue their certificate.
A list of available course to students in the Aggie ACHIEVE program at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022. Students take one non-credit course per semester, as well as a Physical Education non-credit course, while they pursue their certificate. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
First: Effrosyni Chatzistogianni, an academic graduate assistant with the Aggie ACHIEVE program, helps Matthew Philips, a junior in the program, during office hours at Texas A&M University in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022. Second: Students walk to class on the Texas A&M campus. Last: A list of courses available to students in the Aggie ACHIEVE program. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune
Julia Gault, a junior in the Aggie ACHIEVE program, talks with another student during office hours at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station on Nov. 15, 2022.
Julia Gault, a junior in the Aggie ACHIEVE program, talks with another student during office hours on Nov. 15, 2022. Credit: Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune

Colleges and universities haven't always accepted or accommodated students with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but there are now more options for these students.

Aggie ACHIEVE is one of four comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs in Texas. That designation allows students with intellectual disabilities to receive federal financial aid and learn or work along with students without disabilities. Houston Community College, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the University of North Texas also have comprehensive transition programs.

These programs range in length, admission and costs. For example, Texas A&M's program admits about 10 students per year and costs over $30,000 per year because of on-campus housing required for the first two years, program fees and a lack of state aid for the non-degree-seeking students.

There are also other programs and options for students with disabilities to audit courses at public or private colleges, and scholarships or other assistance may be available to help students cover costs. You can read more in our guide to college and job training programs for students with disabilities.

This reporting was supported by the Higher Ed Media Fellowship, which is run by the Institute for Citizens and Scholars and funded by the ECMC Foundation.

Disclosure: Baylor Scott & White Health, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College, Texas 2036, Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin and University of North Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/06/27/texas-career-technical-education/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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abc13.com – Lileana Pearson – 2024-06-21 12:45:59

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