West Texas A&M University has recently deepened its partnership with our region's community colleges and is committed to engaging rural areas with smaller populations. In addition, we are working with business and industry leaders to create more commerce that attracts and retains bright, hardworking people. To succeed at this from an educational standpoint, WT has encouraged its rural partners to give up the old "2+2" model, where the two-year college would grant the associate degree and then hopefully send their students to the university.
Instead, we are "sharing" the students along the way. The colleges have local facilities, faculty and staff and are part of the community. WT adds to this by providing the ability for rural students to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees while remaining in their hometowns, keeping their jobs, supporting their families and generally addressing the complexities of life, one step at a time. The community colleges never stop encouraging and supporting these students, even after completing their two-year degrees. WT Vice President Dr. Brad Johnson, former president of Northeast Texas Community College, is the tip of the spear in this insightful collaboration.
WT positively engages in the process through advising, financial aid, scholarships and supporting the community college staff. Through their partnership with WT, the community has access to what U.S. News & World Report calls the best online undergraduate degree in Texas. The community college staff reduce the feelings of isolation that online students often experience through frequent visits, hosted meetings and personal interest in the students’ progress. This collaboration works in several community college towns across the Panhandle. I want to share with you a story from Dalhart that came to us just this week. As stated in an email correspondence:
"Hello, my name is Jesse Wallace, and my college journey was a little out of the ordinary. I am currently 28 years old, and I am married with three kids. My wife Rebekah and I have been together for 10 years now, and our kids are 6, 4, and 8 months. I graduated high school in 2012 and went straight into the work force. In 2017, I decided that I did not want to just work job after job just to pay the bills, so I enrolled at Frank Phillips College to pursue my associate degree. At first, I just wanted my associate's, but when I was nearing the end of that two-year program, my wife encouraged me to continue my education and go for my bachelor's degree. In the fall of 2020, I transferred to West Texas A&M University to pursue a B.B.A in Computer Information Systems all online. I walked the stage in May, as there is no summer graduation, and will complete the requirements for my bachelor’s degree in August.
This entire journey was difficult, I will not shy away from that. The entire time I was in school, I was working full time while also making time for my family. Time management was a huge part of my success, and the constant encouragement from my wife and our close friends and family helped me see this goal all the way through. Upon graduation, I accepted a position as an IT Systems Analyst for a company in Austin, TX, where my family and I will now be moving to start our next chapter. When I first started at WT, I was completely satisfied with just getting my bachelor's degree. But sitting during that ceremony, and talking to my fellow classmates, I felt that a bachelor's degree was not enough, that I could achieve more. I am now enrolled and going to begin my master's degree program online in the fall at WT to pursue my MBA-CIS degree and be on track to graduate with that in the Fall of 2024. Even though being in college while working full time, having a family, or just being in your later years in life is not ideal or the normal in our society, it is still possible. If you have dreams and goals, don't let anyone or anything keep you from achieving them. You can do it!"
Kudos to Jesse for his dedication and his family for their encouragement and support. And thanks to Frank Phillips College – Rahll Campus for helping WT provide Dalhart citizens a path to a broader future. We are now working to help these communities retain such talent and expand their local workforce in an age where high-wage jobs can be performed from home.
Our communities in the Panhandle are working diligently to attract and retain new industries to the region. Thanks to our local mayors, county judges and other leadership groups in industry and commerce, we are doing just that. Our future lies in strong partnerships that make a better way of life for the hardworking people of our region. People like Jesse. Partnerships with our constellation of communities will bring those opportunities to the best part of rural Texas, not just send talent to the big cities.
Together, WT — the Panhandle's University, in partnership with communities and commerce, is powering a productive future.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Walter Wendler aspirations and taking them one step at a time