In-Depth: Prosper Waco works to fix the disparity between post secondary education and Waco's economic future

Posted at 5:23 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 12:32:48-04

WACO, TX — A recent study showed the trends between unemployment and student enrollment into 2-year Texas public colleges.

For 20 years they run parallel to each other until 2019 where they become inverted. Enrollment dropped in 2020 by 8.2% its lowest in two decades while unemployment rose.

It's hard for many students to face the question "What's next" after graduation. Some students don't have the same access to college and jobs which can ultimately lead to struggles in the future.

Hermann Pereira, Chief Program Officer at Prosper Waco says you could blame the pandemic for the recent trends but there are many more factors that go into it.

"The amount of access, not every student in our community has access to college and career services," Pereira said.

Focusing on getting students to the next step is something Prosper Waco is trying to fix. In McLennan County, there are 93.8% are white with a high school degree, 87.6% are Black and 67.2% are Hispanic.

The trend sits similar with a Bachelor's degree, 32.9% are white with a degree, 12.3% Black and 12.5% Hispanic.

Midway ISD has a College and Career Readiness Coordinator that works with students before they walk across the stage.

"We really want them to start before graduation we would love for them to just start walking into their plan when they leave here," Ebony Stewart said.

Between dual enrollment classes and other opportunities to jump-start students into the next chapter, Stewart works hard with Midway ISD graduates.

"We are very purposeful in meeting each year with the students one on one so we have those conversations with students each year and we really work to find the best fit for them," Stewart said.

Not everyone is ready to go to college right away and Pereira says, that's okay, but then it comes to finding jobs for these students that isn't your normal hourly, part-time job.

"Some are ready to go to work but how do we get them in the best credential program, how do we get them in the best situation," Pereira said.

Prosper Waco has started a new program called UpSkill Waco to help with that barrier and finding jobs for those by giving them career coaching and training them in certain skills they may need for a possible long-term job.

It's important to focus and give opportunities to everyone because as we see Waco's economy is growing but we need community development as well to help economic growth.

"When we focus on that, then we ensure that all Wacoan's are prospering not just a certain segment and that's what we're doing day in and day out at Prosper Waco," Pereira said.