The Funders Behind a New STEM Push in Texas

When it comes to STEM education (or, for that matter, just about anything else), we applaud strategic efforts that ally government agencies, community organizations, local and regional foundations, and prominent national funders to produce desired results. So we were pleased to learn of the recent kickoff of the Texas Regional Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Degree Accelerator Initiative.

Besides being a mouthful, TRSDA strives to increase the number of underrepresented students earning STEM degrees in Texas. The initiative could not come at a better time, as the Lone Star State is projected to have 9 percent of the nation’s future opportunities in the STEM fieldsthe second-highest concentration in the country, after California. TRSDA was developed in alignment with the education and workforce priorities outlined by two key state government agencies: the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission.

Educate Texas, a public-private initiative housed within the Dallas-based Communities Foundation of Texas, distributed the first round of planning grants to TRSDA participants. These participants are regional teams led by a college or university. Regional teams are comprised of a two-year college, a four-year college, a K-12 organization, and workforce partners. During this planning period, the grant recipients will analyze labor market data, and develop plans to increase student participation in STEM and increase the number of underrepresented students who graduate college with STEM credentials. The grantees will have the opportunity to compete for funding to implement their plans in September 2015.

An impressive array of regional and national funders support the work of Educate Texas and the STEM degree accelerator initiative. Top funders of TRSDA include the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Kresge Foundation. The Helmsley Trust’s higher education funding program has the overall goal of increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in the STEM fields. TRSDA aligns perfectly with the Trust’s goals. Kresge, meanwhile, uses its education program to increase access to higher education, especially among historically underrepresented populations. Texas is one of a handful of states in which Kresge concentrates much of its funding.

Other funders of TRSDA include the W.W. Caruth Foundation, a Dallas funder housed at Communities Foundation of Texas; the Council for Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, based in El Paso, Texas; and the Greater Texas Foundation, a state funder striving to increase the number of Texans with postsecondary credentials. Educate Texas’ supporters include the Ford, Dell, Lumina, and Gates foundations.

A look at the eight recipients of the planning grants under TRSDA makes clear that the initiative has a statewide focus, as they are drawn from all areas of the Lone Star State. The recipients are Alamo Colleges in San Antonio; the Austin Community College District in Austin; the Dallas County Community College District; Lee College in Baytown, near Houston; South Texas College in the Rio Grande Valley city of McAllen; Texarkana College in far eastern Texas; the University of Texas at El Paso; and Western Texas College in Snyder.

The regional team approach means that each team is sure to develop a plan for increasing STEM graduates in fields consistent with regional labor market needs. For example, because information technology firms have a strong presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a Dallas regional plan would likely focus on increasing the number of graduates in technology fields. A regional plan for greater Houston, meanwhile, is sure to take into account the area’s role as a major player in oil and gas activity.