San Antonio.- Earlier this week, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board awarded almost $1.3 million to a group of South Texas community colleges to accelerate Eagle Ford Shale job opportunities by training people for higher skilled jobs while providing basic education that would normally take much longer to complete.
The boost will allow the colleges to implement targeted training programs to address the needs of employers and job seekers in South Texas.
Alamo Colleges will lead the project for the Eagle Ford Shale Consortium of schools which includes Coastal Bend College, Laredo Community College, Victoria College and Southwest Texas Junior College.
Dr. Raymund Paredes, commissioner for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, announced the award at the Future of the Region-South Texas (FORSTX) conference earlier this week. He explained the goal is to use the funds as effectively as possible.
“We want to provide support to drive the economy of Texas,” Paredes said. “All higher education is an economic driver.”
Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Bruce Leslie agreed.
“It [the funding] allows us to provide hope for individuals who, because they have had low levels of education and often limited English skills, really haven’t had any place to go,” he said.
“The premise of matching training to available job opportunities is a practical approach,” Dr. Federico Zaragoza, vice chancellor for economic and workforce development at the Alamo Colleges, explained.
“The current economy is leaving so many behind,” he said. “With this program, we will be able to streamline training – many of these students speak little English or need extra help with academics.”
The schools hope the new program will help technical and vocational students to complete remedial academic courses without delaying certifications semester after semester.
By aligning business needs with program offerings and students’ goals, the consortium intend to create a win-win situation. Students will be able to get training for jobs that really exist – to be welders, truck drivers, vocational nurses – and South Texas employers, particularly growing businesses participating in the Eagle Ford Shale economy, will be able to fill the gap with local people.
“The programs, which will be based on a proven national model called I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program) should begin as early next spring,” Zaragoza added.
The two-pronged program will teach both the vocational and technical skills required and basic academic skills, which have been a stumbling block for many seeking vocational certifications. The basic skills portion of the training would be free to the students because that segment of their training is fully funded by the grant.
Zaragoza also said the Alamo Colleges were working closely with Alamo Work Force to implement another project to fast-track students into higher-paying jobs called Just-In-Time training.
This is the eleventh conference for FORSTX since 1993. This year, the conference was dedicated as always, to improving quality of life in South Texas at every level, but with particular attention to fostering economic growth in the region, especially recognizing that Eagle Ford Shale promises to “be a game changer for the region as a whole.”
Angela Covo is a reporter for La Prensa de San Antonio. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.