Business for Breakfast: Higher education in Fort Worth under the microscope

Robert Sturns, left speaks during the Fort Worth Business Press Business for Breakfast on Feb. 21. Other panelists, left to right, are Dr. Anthony Edwards, Dr. Kyle McGregor, Jungus Jordan and Eugene Giovannini


Dr. Eugene Giovannini, Tarrant County College District

Jungus Jordan, Fort Worth City Council, District 6

Dr. Kyle McGregor, Tarleton State University

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Robert Sturns, City of Fort Worth

Moderator: Dr. Anthony Edwards, Tarleton State University

For more on Business for Breakfast series:

Ouch. A headline in the Dallas Morning News found its way into several events during the week of Feb. 19 from Mayor Betsy Price’s State of the City address to the Business for Breakfast series put on by the Fort Worth Business Press.

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“Nothing really makes my day more than waking up in the morning and reading an article that says, ‘Fort Worth is Dragging Down the Dallas Region’s Amazon HQ2 Bid,’ ” Robert Sturns, economic development director for the City of Fort Worth, said at the breakfast event Feb. 21. “So, my initial reaction was, OK, I’m offended that I just read that. But, if you dig into the article, and I’ll admit, they pulled some of data from our strategic plan, the things that they talked about are true.”

The Dallas Morning News column by Mitchell Schnurman, quoting parts of the city’s new Economic Development Plan, says Amazon officials might be put off by the low number of college graduates on the west side of the Metroplex.

So, the Business for Breakfast program couldn’t be timelier apparently. A nerve was struck.

Fort Worth, Sturns noted is lagging behind other areas, both on a local and a national scale from a standpoint of number of four-year degreed students in the workforce.

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“Fort Worth is about 29 percent,” he said. “Our competitive peer cities – that includes Dallas – are anywhere from 30 to 40 percent. Denver’s highest at about 40 percent.”

But the panelists all noted that Fort Worth is doing something about the problem.

Education is key to the future success of the area, said Dr. Eugene Giovannini, chancellor of the Tarrant County College District.

“Education is critically important to fill the jobs that we have coming,” he said. “And as the world changes, we have to be able to adapt to those changes.

“So, I will start out by saying that education’s critically important because we want an educated workforce. We want high paying jobs. We want full employment. Those kinds of things in a city that, in my opinion, is the greatest city on Earth, but we’re only going to stay that way if we have an educated workforce,” he said.

Fort Worth District 6 City Councilman Jungus Jordan, who will watch ground break on Feb. 27 for the new Tarleton State University campus in his district, said even with a very low unemployment rate, there are jobs going unfilled.

“Today you’re looking at a 4.1 percent unemployment rate, and everyone thinks ‘that’s good,’ and that is good. But there are 6 million jobs in this country, right now, that are going unfilled because of lack of skilled labor.”

Many of those jobs are not degree dependent, he said. As rapidly as the skills needed in today’s workplace are changing, education and training needs to be available for all.

“Only a generation ago, of all the jobs created, only about 30, 35 percent of them, required something beyond high school,” he said. “Today, not only do we have those 6 million unfilled, in the next 10 years this economy will create 13 million jobs. Now that’s not the news. The news is, 75 percent of them are gonna require something more than high school. A generation ago, that was only about 30, 35 percent. So the call to action has quickly escalated as it relates to have an educated and trained society.”

Dr. Kyle McGregor, vice president for Institutional Advancement at Tarleton State University, said the requirements for the future fit hand in glove with the wishes of his institution’s founder, John Tarleton. Tarleton created a “gift to create an institution of higher education for those who don’t have access,” McGregor said.

“And if we think about the rise that the institution took from the early 1890s into 1917 when we joined the Texas A&M University system, and where we’ve come from there, the university has continued that mission of providing access to a higher education in order to help individuals climb their way out of poverty, out of situations where they can gain better employment. And that’s always been a part of who we are.

“And we see what we’re doing in Fort Worth still accomplishing that mission. If we think about our partnership with TCC, at [our current campus] we do not have freshmen or sophomores in Fort Worth. And we partner with TCC and others in order to work with the freshmen and sophomores that they’re working with to have them seamlessly transition into a third and fourth year of a bachelor’s degree and continue on to a master’s degree, and even a doctoral degree. And so we want to play that role in Fort Worth, with our partners,” he said.

The Business for Breakfast series was held Feb. 21 at the Fort Worth Club. Sponsors were Pinnacle Bank and JTaylor.

Dr. Anthony Edwards, assistant professor and director of Global Campus Outreach at ‎Tarleton was the moderator.