Austin Community College praised for filling workforce gaps

Updated June 30, 2016

Austin Community College has made important strides in filling workforce gaps, boosting its enrollment of students still in high school and lifting completion rates for remedial courses, according to a new report by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the college.

“ACC has taken the lead to ensure residents have an accessible, affordable path to higher education and workforce training,” said Mike Perrine, market president of Capital One Bank and chairman of the task force that oversaw preparation of the “Progress Toward Excellence” report. “We commend the college for its efforts to close achievement gaps and ensure more students earn a credential that leads to employment or university transfer.”

The chamber hasn’t always been so complimentary of ACC’s efforts. In 2010, for example, the business group said more needed to be done to increase transfer, graduation and completion rates.

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The new report notes that the portion of students who successfully completed remedial, or developmental, math rose to 55.5 percent from 51.6 percent between fall 2010 and fall 2014. Dual credit enrollment, which gives high school students a chance to jump-start their college educations without having to pay tuition, has risen from 3,959 students in fall 2011 to 5,404 in fall 2015.

The number of students earning degrees, certificates and other awards has risen 71 percent, to 5,851, from the 2009-10 academic year to 2014-15, even as enrollment has stayed roughly flat. And ACC met 80 percent of the Central Texas labor force need for applied technology workers in 2015.

Drew Scheberle, a senior vice president for the chamber, credited Richard Rhodes, ACC’s president and CEO, for leading the improvements.

The report nevertheless included prodding as well as praise.

“To meet the workforce needs of Central Texas, we must draw more students to higher education and prepare them for complex middle- and high-skill jobs,” Perrine and Rhodes wrote in a joint statement in the report. Goals include boosting enrollment — 38,909 as of last fall — to 46,000 students by 2022 and getting 70 percent of graduating seniors to enroll in college directly after high school, up from the current 61 percent average for 15 area school districts.

ACC’s graduation rates remain a persistent challenge. Its three-year graduation rate for full-time, first-time-in-college students is 3.8 percent, well below the 15.4 percent average for community colleges in Texas, according to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board. ACC’s six-year graduation rate is 26.4 percent, trailing the 32.6 percent statewide average. Although only about 20 percent of ACC’s entering students are first-time full-timers who figure in the calculations, such students tend to be much more likely to graduate than part-timers.

The college’s efforts to keep students on track include a regrouping of academic programs into 10 broad areas of study, with so-called block scheduling of courses to make it easier for students to organize their day-to-day activities. Advising is being stepped up and includes software intended to help students and their advisers monitor progress. Chamber officials praised those efforts, as well as new options for competency-based learning that allows students to advance at their own pace, particularly in support of high-demand information technology jobs.

ACC has grown to 11 campuses since it opened in 1973. Construction is underway on its 12th, the San Gabriel campus in Leander, which is scheduled to open in 2018. The college completed the $10.5 million purchase of 124 acres in southeastern Travis County last year for future development of a career-technical training center.