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Aligning education and industry for workforce development that works
By Jessica David / February 18, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

Texas State Technical College’s public funding is based on the five-year earnings of its graduates. College for America at Southern New Hampshire University offers an online competency-based college education for $2,500/year.

Last Wednesday, Michael Bettersworth, vice chancellor and chief policy officer of Texas State Technical College, and Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at College for America, presented at the second in our series of Community Conversations at Roger Williams University in Bristol. The topic was workforce development – and specifically how to break down the silos of education and industry in order to address the skills gaps we hear so much about. More than 50 educators, employers, industry representatives, and policy makers joined us to hear about these two ground-breaking approaches.

TSTC was founded in 1965 and is the only state-supported technical college system in Texas (separate from the community college system). Its mission is economic development: “to help Texas meet the high-tech challenges of today’s global economy, in partnership with business and industry, government agencies, and other educational institutions.” TSTC serves nearly 30,000 students annual through traditional degree programs, short-term certificates, and corporate training programs. TSTC targets occupations where growth, demand, and earnings overlap. They focus on skills rather than program and degree or occupation and job title. Occupations are broken down into detailed work activities, which are validated by employers and used by faculty to develop curriculum.

College for America is an employer-supported program built around mastery, not seat time. Students are supported by learning coaches, reviewers, peers, mentors, and their employers. Each degree is broken into specific competencies; every competency must be mastered to achieve the degree. Students complete projects and receive detailed feedback within 48 hours from trained reviewers with advanced degrees, real work experience, and subject matter expertise. Students’ work is assessed as mastered or “not yet.” Of the 30 students who completed the program in its first year, more than 50% report getting a promotion or increased responsibility at work, and 20  have enrolled in a bachelor’s program.

While these models do not translate directly to Rhode Island, I think several of the common themes are extremely relevant for our state:

  • Results. Both models have a total focus on results. Julian and Michael demonstrated absolute clarity about the role of their organizations in a broader ecosystem, and they’re focused exclusively on delivering on that promise. This requires a different kind of organizational culture, and it was clear that their institutions value accountability to their students and employer partners. Rhode Island would be well served by a greater emphasis on results over activity.


  • Data. Both approaches rely heavily on data. This is not surprising, given the focus on results. Both TSTC and CFA have developed strong, sophisticated methods of data analysis to forecast labor market trends, inform program development, and measure outcomes. In order to best channel limited resources for the greatest and most meaningful impact, Rhode Island needs stronger analytical capacities.


  • Alignment. At their core, both of these programs are about creating deep connections between the institution’s resources, needs of employers, skills of students, and future direction of the economy. TSTC and CFA have provided translation services – helping ensure that educators and employers are truly understanding one another. While this is happening in pockets in Rhode Island, aligning our education, industry, and workforce systems would allow for significant scale.

Today’s challenges and the future economy demand that we think differently. The Texas State Technical College and College for America offer great insights on how we can evolve beyond the traditional methods of educating and training students. 

Hear more from Michael and Julian about TSTC and College for America's approach to workforce development in this short video below.


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