Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a field hearing in Texarkana, Texas to highlight the role of community colleges in advancing America's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce. This is the third in a series of hearings to highlight STEM education activities across the nation, their role in inspiring and educating future generations, and their contribution to our future economic prosperity. Today's hearing focused on the role of community colleges and the importance of their partnerships and contributions to the local economy, workforce, and other aspects of the community.
"STEM education and a trained, skilled workforce are closely connected and are both essential elements for U.S. economic prosperity," said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). "They should be a top priority for every community, much like they are here in Texarkana."
"Not only do community colleges make up almost half of all U.S. undergraduates, but they also create a pathway to 4-year universities," Hall continued. "Through valuable partnerships with businesses, industry, other schools and local government and economic development entities, these help to create a competitive and economically successful community."
Testifying today,Dr. Cora Marrett, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), said that community colleges are both affordable and accessible. "Clearly, community colleges contribute a great deal to the STEM education pathway and resulting workforce," Marrett said. "Enhancing capacity for community colleges is a priority across the Foundation. Nearly all of the directorates have programs or activities that include a community college focus."
As industry moves toward producing more high-tech products, the need for technologically and scientifically literate individuals at all levels of the workforce will increase. Many recent reports have illustrated that there are not enough people with the requisite skills to fill these specialized jobs.
Witnesses from Texarkana College (TC), Northeast Texas Community College (NTCC), and Texas A&M University -- Texarkana today discussed innovative partnerships and opportunities available to students who want to pursue higher education in the STEM fields. Mr. James Henry Russell, President of Texarkana College, discussed the importance of recognizing the needs of the community and providing educational opportunities to fill those roles. Mr. Russell said, "Realizing that one of Texarkana College's greatest contributions to our regional economy is preparing a skilled workforce for our employers, the institution strives to promote the attainment of certificates in technical fields that lead to employment in the local market."
Dr. Brad Johnson, President of NTCC , said that community colleges fill an important gap in encouraging STEM education. "We are the most likely gateway through which first-generation and economically-disadvantaged students begin their college careers," Johnson said. "Although only 10% of our total student body are seeking a STEM degree, these are still significant contributions to the effort."
Community colleges face many challenges in creating and developing tech-training programs, and often face low enrollment in these programs. Dr. C.B. Rathburn, President of Texas A&M University-Texarkana, spoke of these challenges, saying, "The tide of losing high paying science, technology and engineering jobs to other countries is alarming but understandable when you consider the declines experienced over the last two decades in the performance of our students in math and science curricula and the production of both STEM field graduates and qualified STEM educators." Dr. Rathburn said that "This decline has been especially challenging in our smaller and more rural communities across our nation."
The second panel of witnesses focused on workforce needs. Representing CHRISTUS St. Michael Health Systems, the second largest employer in the Texarkana area, Ms. Pam Kennedy, said that "A STEM workforce is imperative to healthcare, our workforce, and our community." She continued, "Fortunately, we have local colleges and universities that provide nurses and other allied health professionals to our community. We have found we have been the most successful by "growing our own' within the community because they are committed to remaining in the area after graduation."
The following witnesses testified before the Committee:
Dr. Cora Marrett, Deputy Director, National Science Foundation
Mr. James Henry Russell, President, Texarkana College
Dr. Brad Johnson, President, Northeast Texas Community College
Dr. C.B. Rathburn, President, Texas A&M University -- Texarkana
Ms. Pam Kennedy, Vice President of Human Resources, CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System
Mr. Myron Barnett, Human Resource Manager, International Paper
Mr. Denis Washington, Chairman, TexAmericas