by Carroll G. Robinson, Esq.
Trustee District IV, Houston Community College System
If we are to overcome the challenges now confronting us as individuals and a nation – high unemployment, underemployment, slow job growth, stagnant wages, increased poverty because of people falling out of the middle class, high dropout rates, the racial academic achievement gap, the need to increase the number of college graduates and workforce ready individuals – we must more effectively use our community colleges as the catalyst to modernize our educational system.
We can accomplish this in Texas by putting Early Colleges on local high school and middle school campuses. Because I have the privilege to serve as a Trustee for District IV for Houston Community College, I will speak to those things I strongly believe HCC can and should do to enroll and graduate students in our service area. But, keep in mind that all these recommendations may be applied almost anywhere in the State.
Expand HCC’s Early College Program
Houston Community College, in partnership with local school districts, must expand its Early College, Workforce/Career Training and Dual Credit programs throughout its service area by placing them on local high school and middle school campuses. Every student that graduates from high school in the HCC service area should do so with not only a diploma, but also at least one year of FREE college credits and a Workforce Skills Certificate. This preparation would give students the option of going to college or entering the workforce upon their graduation from high school.
We must use our community colleges as the cornerstone for public/private partnerships that connect K-12 education with workforce skills development and the academic preparation necessary to do college level academic work. This will help increase the number of college graduates. The Brookings Institute has recently reiterated the fact that we have a “skills gap” problem in our community. We have high skills, high wage jobs but not enough people with the skills to fill them.
If we can improve the academic, technical and critical thinking skills of those in our community that don’t go on to college after graduating from high school, we will reduce the unemployment rate in our region which will result in more homeownership, more consumer spending and more revenue to local governments to provide basic services.
Dual Credits For All High school Students
Every high school student across the HCC system from North Forest ISD, HISD, Alief ISD, Aldine ISD, Spring Branch ISD, Fort Bend County and Katy ISD should take Dual Credit courses if they aren’t taking Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.As with AP and IB courses, students who take Dual Credit courses should receive financial support to take placement exams.
A Houston Future Fund should be a public/private partnership that not only helps pay for students to take the Dual Credit placement exam, it should also provide college scholarships to all local High school Graduates to attend area colleges and assist them with finding internships during the Christmas break and in the summer. This effort would help our community hold on to our intellectual capacity while building our future workforce years in advance. Businesses in other communities are already engaged in similar efforts.
Houston College Scholarship Day
To stress the importance of college attendance and workforce readiness, we should hold an annual Houston College Scholarship Day where we recognize all the young people in our community who have received a college scholarship and the local organizations and universities that have awarded academic college scholarships. Like we celebrate college athletic signing day, we should celebrate a Houston Academic College Scholarship Day.
HCC Pre-Admission Certificate
When students enter 6th grade, all of them should be awarded a Pre-Admission Certificate to HCC. The certificate would grant them automatic admission to HCC upon graduation from high school. Not every student will choose to attend HCC, but every student should know as early as the 6th grade that they have a college to attend upon their graduation from high school.
If colleges can recruit quarterbacks and basketball players in middle school, we can provide extra academic support to help students in the earliest grades possible achieve academic success, attend college and be workforce ready upon graduation from High school.
In middle school, The HCC Early College/Career training effort should focus on entrepreneurship training (in partnership with groups such as the Houston Area Urban League, HoustonWorks USA, Junior Achievement, local Chambers of Commerce and business associations) and pre-Dual Credit prep. This effort should continue through the first two years of high school. Students would then take Dual Credit courses in their junior and senior years of high school. If we did these things in addition to securing funding to underwrite the second year of academic course work at HCC for Dual Credit High school graduates, we could secure an Associate Degree, a better job and a brighter future for thousands of young people in our community.
This is why we need a Houston Future Fund, Early College/Dual Credit prep starting in middle school and the overall modernization of our education system. We can improve and modernize our education system in Houston. The Houston Community College System is the best vehicle to help lift Houston families out of poverty by building and growing an ever expanding pool of well-educated individuals that are workforce-ready or who go on to college and graduate with an Associate Degree within two years and a Bachelor’s Degree within four. This talent pool will help attract businesses and jobs to the Houston region as well as cultivate our own homegrown entrepreneurial talent, business owners and job creators.
Some people have said my plan is too ambitious. I don’t believe that. We can’t simply wait and hope that some of our kids will make it through the gauntlet and find their way to college and a good paying job. Being ambitious has never been too big for the “Can Do” spirit of our community. Now is not the time to forget that being ambitious is what has built Houston into the great and unique city we are from the Allen brothers to today. As Dr. Benjamin Mays, the great president of Morehouse College and mentor to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,
“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.”
Carroll (Kah-Roll) G. Robinson is a Houston-based attorney, civil rights advocate and Trustee for District IV for the Houston Community College System. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.