Opportunity Austin: College and Career Readiness and Placement
Drew Scheberle, Austin Chamber of Commerce
The Austin Metropolitan Area is among the most vibrant in the nation economically, intellectually and culturally. Despite our vitality, skill gaps in the Austin region perpetuate income inequity.
We must improve key trends which limit the ability of our young people and unemployed adults to participate in our economy. Among these are three principal roadblocks:
- First, more than half of Austin’s 41,000 open jobs require at least an associate’s degree; yet nearly two-thirds of our roughly 38,000 unemployed lack at least that credential.
- Second, Austin’s 63% direct-to-college enrollment rate lags the national average of 66%.
- Third, many of our students face financial headwinds, with half in our largest school district classified as low-income and one-third as learning English. Poverty rates on multiple campuses approach or exceed 90%.
If we don’t act now to remove these barriers, the skills and credentials gap will perpetuate income inequity and widen the economic segregation already evident in the Austin MSA.
If we can’t figure out how to help more of our people earn a valued credential – in a city with energy, commitment and a strong need for a highly educated workforce – we won’t be able to figure it out for the rest of Texas and the rest of the nation.
To help address these challenges, in 2004, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce launched Opportunity Austin, a five-year, regional economic development initiative designed to foster job-creating investment in our five-county region. We have now launched the fourth iteration – OA 4.0 – in January 2019, designed to accelerate economic diversification and improve education attainment and Opportunity for All in the Austin MSA.
A key aspect to Austin’s audacious goal of Opportunity for All is to ensure we continue to develop our human capital to meet our economy’s changing requirements. To accomplish this, OA 4.0 set a goal and designed strategies to accomplish near universal readiness and placement of area high school graduates – either into postsecondary education or the high-performance workplace.
As other cities examine these efforts and seek to replicate in their own community, there are a number of outcomes they could expect to see. If replicated faithfully, and using the kind of integrated approach used here in Austin, we would expect:
- Stronger relationship between schools, colleges, and the business community;
- Improvement across key metrics influencing postsecondary and career outcomes:
- Increase in college application rates;
- Increases in college readiness rates;
- Increases in college going rates;
- Increases in FAFSA completion rates and amount of financial aid received by area students; and
- Increases in the number of those who actually complete college.
- Improved economic opportunities for those who complete degrees and credentials that are in demand;
- Improved ability to evaluate outcomes at K12, postsecondary and labor market outcomes (employment/UI wages);
- Improved ability to advocate for key policies, issue areas, that support educational and economic priorities for a region.
Additionally, the partnerships created here can enhance the ways in which various sectors of the community interact and come together to address mutual challenges. Ultimately these efforts will increase the share of citizens with a credential of value to allow more residents to participate in the economy, reduce economic inequities by improving earning power, and also improve the overall quality of labor force.
- Austin Chamber To Stage ‘Stage of Education’ Event (Patch) Link
- In 20 years, Austin’s population will be 4.5M. Here’s what Austin will look like. (KVUE) Link
- FAFSA application period opens Tuesday (KXAN) Link
- ACC boots enrollment, completions in key workforce fields, report finds (Statesman) Link
- Austin Unemployment Rate Continues to Drop (Patch.com) Link
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