Texas Tribune convenes to discuss educational attainment
January 26, 2016
UTEP hosted a Texas Tribune discussion Friday, Jan. 22, taking a look at urban public education in the state of Texas.
The first talk concentrated on changing demographics in public schools, while the second covered the complexities of social and emotional learning.
The third phase of discussion centered around the importance and challenges faced by school systems trying to get more high school students into colleges and universities.
Challenges, the panel members said, that can’t be dealt with by only one side.
“College people don’t really understand high school and high school people don’t really understand college,” said Daniel King, superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.
King emphasized the need for universities and local school districts to coordinate, working together to encourage more students to go after post-secondary education.
That encouragement, the panel said, is about more than simply having more students apply to and graduate from universities.
“We need to make sure the students have options and that they know what those options are,” King said.
Among those options, panel members discussed, more paths than a traditional college education should be presented.
“Technical training is still college,” said William Serrata, El Paso Community College president.
Serrata said many students think the only path after graduation is a traditional college education. While he said more should be aware of technical careers, he said that those who follow them do so as much as they can, and become professionals in their field.
Finding out how to maximize each student’s potential is no easy task.
“There isn’t just one solution, there are a million solutions,” said Susan Hull, superintendent of the Grand Prairie Independent School District.
Despite the hard work that would be required, they also agreed the efforts would be worth it.
“The more you learn, the more you earn,” Serrata said.
BEYOND THE BACHELOR’S
As efforts increase to have more students enter colleges, some are concerned job requirements may increase as the job market gains more people with the same qualifications.
Fears, others say, should not be felt much.
“Most of the companies that come recruit here are looking for undergraduate degrees,” said Craig Thompson, associate director of the UTEP Career Services.
Thompson clarified that although some companies are asking for more than just a degree, it does not mean students would need a master’s degree to get a job instead of a bachelor’s.
“It doesn’t really mean the degree isn’t worth anything, it’s that they are looking for job-specific criteria,” Thompson said.
He said those companies that ask for more than a degree usually look for students who have had previous experience in similar positions which give the students extra training for the job.
Those job-specific criteria, Thompson said, are gained by internships and work experiences the students seek out while still in college. He said the experiences might give students a chance to learn things they wouldn’t normally in a classroom setting.
Students agree that out-of-class experience is crucial to finding a job after graduation.
“It’ll give you an advantage over other people who don’t have experience and just do the [academic] work,” said Cassandra Kuntz, a junior literature major.
For some students it means more than just working in internships.
Junior political science major Miguel Alvarez said he wants to go into law enforcement, but was advised to not follow the criminal justice degree plan. Instead he is studying political science, and plans to approach his career from a different angle.
He said with the number of people going into law enforcement with criminal justice degrees, a political science degree will set him apart from the crowd.
“People should do extra work, should stand out and should go the extra mile, because in the end it pays out,” Alvarez said.
Julio Cesar-Chavez may be reached at [email protected]