FORT WORTH — The future of this state can be predicted just by peeking into an elementary school classroom.As businesses continue to flock to Texas, it’s more crucial than ever to create a skilled workforce — which means encouraging Texas’ youth to go to college, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp said Thursday.“We have got to start paying attention to the most important economic asset,” Sharp told a crowd of more than 200 gathered for the Jim Wright Symposium at Texas Christian University. “That is those students sitting in first grade classrooms.”Sharp, who became chancellor of the Texas A&M University System in late 2011, served as a Democrat in the Texas House and Senate for years before serving on the state’s Railroad Commission and as Texas’ Comptroller.Narrowly defeated by fellow Texas A&M alum Republican Rick Perry in 1998, as they both sought to become the state’s next lieutenant governor, the two have worked together over the years on issues such as overhauling state business taxes. (Sharp did note Thursday that he had a higher grade point average in school than Perry).Sharp, who has deep local ties since his daughter Victoria was adopted from the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, has been in town more frequently since Texas A&M opened a law school in Fort Worth.On Thursday, however, his focus was on “the good and the bad of what’s headed to Texas.”While cattle, cotton and oil and gas have dictated much of the state’s success in the past, the future will be carved out by whether there are enough educated youths to fill the jobs that will be open.To get to that point, mediocrity can’t be tolerated in Texas public schools or colleges, he said.Especially at a time in which the bulk of jobs in the coming years will require at least some higher education, according to data by the Center on Education and the Workforce.“If Texas cannot produce a higher percentage of its population able to fill this demand, businesses, including the state’s 52 Fortune 500 companies, may begin to look elsewhere for future employees,” Patrick Kobler, program coordinator for The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership at the George W. Bush Institute, recently blogged.“Preparing more students to succeed in, and ultimately complete, higher education can help ensure businesses continue relocating to — and not out of — Texas.”Kobler noted that a third of the state’s 25- to 34-year-olds have earned an associate degree or higher. Sharp said two of the most frequent questions he received as comptroller from businesses looking to relocate in Texas was: How many 18 to 20 year olds live in various Texas counties? And what’s the education level of those youths?That is why today’s children must be encouraged to attend college and become more accustomed to the question, “Where are you going to college?” rather than “Are you going to college”?“If we do this right, we are going to create an economic development system in Texas that literally is going to smoke everyone else,” Sharp said.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley