Education

How Tarrant County’s colleges are changing with their students

College campuses, whether they’re community, regional or private, need to be more flexible to the needs of students and the workforce.

That was the message Tuesday from the executives of three of Tarrant County’s largest institutions: TCU, Tarrant County College and UT Arlington. They spoke briefly Wednesday at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s first State of Higher Education luncheon.

Gone are the days when students enrolled in college right out of high school, finished in four years and returned only if they were pursuing a post-graduate degree, said TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini. Through TCC, some students graduate high school with an associate degree. Classrooms may be filled with young undergrads and older adults wanting to change careers or earn better pay. More than 20,000 TCC students take classes online and they may visit more than one of the school’s five campuses.

“They’re doing it out of convenience. They work one place, but live in another place,” he said. “So we have to have multiple options to experience us.”

Vistasp Karbhari, president of UTA, told the crowd he hates the phrase “traditional student.” Those seeking higher education no longer fit into a definable bubble, he said.

Schools need to readjust their attitudes regarding how long students should take to graduate, he said. A four year degree may not be in the cards for everyone. Especially for students balancing work or family, the ability to start and stop education quickly is important. Karbhari describe a scenario where a working student’s schedule may change, forcing them to drop out.

“We don’t have them drop out, we have them ‘stop out’ because it’s a carousel, so that when they can come back in, they flow seamlessly through it,” he said.

Traditional institutions, like TCU, where there are still a large number of students on a four-year track, should rethink their priorities, said Chancellor Victor Boschini.

Universities should be teaching students more than just academics, Boschini said. While it’s true that those with college degrees earn more, the school’s responsibility is not just to prepare students for work but also to live in diverse environments and understand other viewpoints.

He joked that many students may expect to be “at least a vice president” in their first job, and it is role of the university to prepare them for workplace realities.

“I think the biggest challenge we have is focusing them more on societal issues,” he said.

All three executives stressed the importance of partnering with Fort Worth’s business community.

TCC will soon launch an initiative called TCC Means Business focused on making sure TCC courses meet the needs of employees and constantly evolve Giovannini said. UTA hopes to expand a program available at BNSF and a few other companies where courses needed for continuing education are offered at corporate headquarters, Karbhari said, calling on the businesses to become partners in education.

“Give your time in order to have an intern who is more than just a person who comes and goes, and give your time to actually mentor this student. Adopt them, if you will,” he said. “What you’re going to be telling them is going to lay the path for their success through their entire careers.”

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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