Austin Community College should produce more graduates in health care and technology, increase its enrollment to 50,000 students and continue to pursue innovative approaches to remedial education, according to a new report by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.
The report, “Progress Toward Excellence,” is the fourth in a series by the chamber, which has emerged as both partner and prodder when it comes to ACC.
Richard Rhodes, ACC’s president and CEO, said the college values the close association with the business group, welcomes its recommendations and is dedicated to expanding its workforce training.
“It helps give us feedback to kind of sharpen the saw, to make sure we are meeting the needs,” Rhodes said. “We are supposed to be responsive to the community, and the chamber is a critical voice regarding the workforce.”
The report, which was produced in cooperation with ACC, praised the college for undertaking various initiatives intended to help more students persist in their studies, earn a degree or certificate and find employment. For example, a technician apprenticeship program at Samsung Austin Semiconductor gives students the opportunity to work part time at the chipmaker while completing an associate degree.
Increased student retention could help the college attain an enrollment of 50,000 by 2015, the report said. That would be close to the enrollment at the University of Texas. ACC had 40,198 students in fall 2012.
Currently, 43 percent of entering students earn a certificate, finish a degree or transfer to a four-year school within three years. The college has set a goal of 50 percent by 2020.
Many students drop out because they are unable to pass a remedial, or developmental, course. Forty percent of ACC’s first-time-in-college students in fall 2012 had to take at least one developmental course in math, reading or writing. For most, math is the biggest stumbling block.
A “math emporium” under construction at the Highland Mall property, which ACC owns, will have 600 computers in an open-concept setting where students can work on their own, with peer tutors and with faculty members. It is intended to be a compelling alternative to the conventional classroom, where struggling students tend to be reluctant to ask questions, Rhodes said.
Such initiatives could help ACC address the region’s greatest workforce needs, which are in health care and technology, said Tony Budet, chairman of the chamber’s task force for the report and president and CEO of University Federal Credit Union.
In 2011-12, 905 ACC health science students finished their studies, enough to meet 65 percent of the region’s annual need for nurses, X-ray technicians and other such workers. During the same period, 452 ACC students completed technology studies, 61 percent of demand for wafer technicians, repair technicians, information technology workers and other specialists.
ACC is developing an academic master plan to serve as a kind of blueprint for improvement. One likely theme is the importance of what Rhodes described as a clustered approach to programs.
For example, one of the school’s eight campuses might be designated as headquarters for the gaming technology program, with classes in computer programming, creative writing and photography offered at that site.
“It’s the first academic master plan ACC has embarked on,” said Drew Scheberle, a senior vice president for the chamber. “We’re really hopeful it will support the targets in the progress report.”
Facts, figures on ACC
Opened its doors in 1973
Eight campuses, with additional ones opening in fall 2013 in Elgin and spring 2014 in Kyle
40,198 students as of fall 2012
About 5,000 full-time and part-time employees
$272 million annual budget