“This serves a lot of critical needs in this area,” Cornyn said after his tour of the CBC oil and gas industry’s workforce program.
“People need to learn the skills so they can go to work for these good high-paying jobs that do exist.
“We also know that schools like this are really important in trying to give people an affordable education.
“We know that education obviously opens a lot of doors for people looking for a chance to do other things.”
Cornyn’s tour included getting behind the wheel of the school’s truck driving simulation computer and a visit with some of the students.
During a brief presentation to Cornyn, Susan Smedley, director of marketing and public relations at CBC, highlighted that since the college began offering the oil and gas program and related continuing education classes three years ago, the college has had 3,500 students walk through its doors.
College President Dr. Beatriz Espinoza said, “Again it is a battle getting students here and getting formal training and better prepared or going straight into the workforce.”
She added that the college works with area industries, including those in the oil and gas, medical and airframe mechanics fields, to ensure the college is teaching what is needed in the workforce.
Cornyn said, “I know that while unemployment is high and higher here than other parts of the state, I continue to hear from employers that they find it difficult to find qualified employees.”
Espinoza responded, “That is why we want to keep them here long enough to graduate.
“Sometimes students take a class, get a job and move on.”
She and the faculty are working to find ways to keep the students enrolled until they can finish with either a certificate or associate degree in their field of study.
Espinoza spent much of her time highlighting the workforce and continuing education programs with Cornyn, but most students attending the college are using it as a stepping stone to a four-year university.
“Most of our students are still coming for the university student transfer program,” she said. “We do have a number of workforce programs that are being considered by our student population.
“They love the short-term, quick, easy certificate and entry into the workforce.”
By getting an education, these students are helping turn around the unimpressive statistics of the area.
“Our median income and high school diploma rate is well below the national and state average and our poverty rate is above the national average,” the president said. “We don’t have the best statistics to show, which is why education is extremely important to us.”
Improving the education of the residents is key, Cornyn said, to maintaining the area economy.
“If people are earning good money, they are spending it somewhere and so you see what is commonly called a multiplier effect,” he said. “They need to buy a car. They need to buy food and go to the store.
“It has a multiplier effect which helps the economy even more than it helps the individual student.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.