Leaders from Fort Bend’s higher education entities said topics such as working with local industries, the increase in online education options and campus violence are the top trends affecting their colleges and universities.

The June 5 Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce panel was moderated by Education Division Chairman Jim Rice and included Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of Houston Community College Southwest; Jay Neal, associate vice president and chief operating officer of University of Houston-Sugar Land; and Randall Wooten, vice chancellor and chief execution officer at Texas State Technical College’s Fort Bend campus.

As enrollment increased at their respective schools, one of the drivers, they said, is keeping local industries and school districts involved through advisory committees so curriculum meets the needs of employers.

“We have high-paying jobs people want,” Wooten said. “Our advisory committees tell us the latest and greatest, and it becomes our curriculum.”

For example, HCC created a coalition of manufacturing companies and governmental representatives in May to work on creating a pipeline of employees from its Stafford campus program.

Panelists also said they welcome new companies to join their committees and be a part of their career fairs.

When Neal was a professor, he said he encouraged freshman students to attend the fairs and meet with company recruiters so they formed a relationship with the company by the time they were juniors.

“It is about getting engaged instead of being a spectator,” Burillo-Hopkins said with regard to companies being involved. “We need you—you are in the field, and you have a lot to contribute. You can also come in and tell our students what it is like to do your job.”

Panelists said offering more online courses is the way education is moving, but their schools are providing them in different ways.

Wooten said TSTC provided classroom instruction materials online so students could get a head start and be able to devote more time to hands-on instruction. Meanwhile, Burillo-Hopkins said online education was the largest area of increase at HCC as nearly 70% of its students attended part time while working.

“We have to meet the needs of our students and take the education where the people are,” she said.

The prevalence of violence on campus and how to manage the issue is one of the things Neal said he thinks about often.

Though each campus provides campus violence training to faculty and staff, panelists agreed more needed to be done to identify mental illness in students, faculty and staff and to provide training on how to respond adequately to deescalate issues.

“You have so little control over it,” Neal said. “We just have to keep up with best practices and have staff that is trained.”