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Better Data to Build Better Career Pathways

By Maggie Jo Buchanan, Southern Director

Last Friday, the Texas Legislature passed a bill (SB 1119) to bring more transparency to the state’s work-study program and help improve career pathways for participating students. As the bill makes its way to the Governor, it is important to recognize the valuable insight this bill will bring to the students who participate in the program.

In less than five years, more than 60 percent of all jobs in Texas will require some sort of post-secondary education. At the same time, employers nationwide have been forced to reduce training time for new employees and cut back on entry-level positions. Last year, to better understand the impact of this trend, Young Invincibles completed the “Young Texas Works Jobs Tour,” a series of conversations with over 250 young people across our state on their experiences completing their degrees and entering the workforce.

Throughout the tour, we heard young adults illustrate the reality of our changing economy: Many expressed their struggles balancing the hours of paid work they needed to cover their bills and tuition with the hours they needed to keep their grades on track for graduation and to remain eligible for financial aid. One student told us: “At some point [when trying to balance work in school], even in the beginning you can manage, but as you move forward in your career and your studies, it’s harder and harder to be able to keep your job.”

Many of the young people we work with, however, identify the Texas Work–Study Program as an important avenue for them to tackle this education–experience paradox. But before SB 1119, the only information the state was required to provide was a biannual report on the employers in the program—nothing on participating students.

The bill requires that the report be made annual and include:

  • Demographic information;
  • The program of study and majors;
  • Class-year designations; and
  • Enrollment as a full-time or part-time student of all participants.

This new data will help us better ensure the TWSP is helping young Texans gain career-relevant experience. By identifying how students’ programs of study and majors compare to the participating employers, for example, we will be able to identify gaps and misalignments in opportunities. And, if certain students are being underserved by the program—for example, students in certain class years or degree programs—we can help ensure targeted, appropriate outreach to those who may benefit most from work-study.

In 1979, a student working a minimum-wage job could earn enough in one day to pay for one academic credit hour. Today, it would take 60 hours of minimum wage work for a student to accomplish the same. The Texas Work–Study Program is a valuable tool in helping students keep their heads above water, and by ensuring we better understand the young adults participating in the program as well as the employers doing the same, we will have a clearer picture of what our next steps should be.