Solving the talent dilemma

Published 12:00 pm Monday, June 29, 2015

By Veronica Stidvent, Chancellor, WGU Texas

Texas employers know that the good news of a strong economy is tempered by the challenges businesses face finding workers who are skilled, educated and ready to succeed in some of the state’s high-demand fields such as health care, high tech and STEM fields.
Many existing jobs are evolving and changing, too, with employers needing to keep their workers’ skill sets in technology, engineering and health care current and on pace with new advancements in these fields.
As more and more Texans realize that to advance in their careers they need a college degree or additional training in their chosen fields, we’re reaching a tipping point.
In short, Texas is experiencing a talent dilemma.
There are an estimated 3.7 million Texans with some college, but no degree.
Without a doubt, our state needs to graduate more Texans with post-secondary degrees, certificates or credentials.  Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, a WGU Texas partner, has long championed this cause on behalf of the business community.
To meet our present and future workforce needs, Texas employers must look beyond the 18-21 year old “traditional student” cohort.  In the U.S. in 2011, only 29 percent of students enrolled in a four-year public or non-profit college were full-time students of standard college age.
We need a broader solution, one that provides ample opportunity for non-traditional students—Texans who work full-time and cannot logistically or financially afford to leave careers to enroll in college full-time.
Many Texans may have started, but were unable to complete, their undergraduate or graduate degrees for a variety of personal or professional reasons. It isn’t feasible for many of these potential students to stop working to pursue additional education.  They need flexibility.
Focusing on the needs of these non-traditional students is how we’ll solve the talent dilemma and keep Texas competitive.  So, what does a broader solution to our workforce shortage really mean?
One way is to leverage technology and emphasize competency-based education that requires students to demonstrate their knowledge rather than simply spending time in a seat in a classroom.
WGU Texas and our parent, non-profit university Western Governors University have been trailblazers in this regard. We recently announced the launch of a new scholarly research publication, The Journal of Competency-Based Education, which examines best practices, trends and science behind competency-based learning.
Affordability is always a concern – whether students are paying for their degrees or employers are looking to invest in on-the-job training and tuition reimbursement for their employees.
Here again, WGU Texas has stepped up. WGU Texas has held tuition flat for four years and recently announced we would continue to do so, bucking the trend of annual increases by other colleges and universities across the country.
Competition and choice in education is good, and we’re hoping our leadership in this space encourages other universities in Texas to find ways to put college within reach for more Texans.
Texas employers and our state leaders should continue to look for ways to provide workers an opportunity to advance their careers and prepare for today’s workforce with more online learning, competency-based education, greater flexibility and enhanced affordability.
We’re all in this together, and when it comes to solving Texas’ talent dilemma, the future of our state rests on all of us – employers, educators and universities getting this right.

Veronica Vargas Stidvent is Chancellor of WGU Texas. Online at