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My Degree Counts: Focusing on Student Success to Boost Houston’s Economy

HOUSTON, TX, August 2012 – How can we add billions of dollars to Houston’s economy every year? Supporting student success is one simple answer according to members of the nonprofit, business, and academic communities that gathered this week to participate in a conversation about increasing the region’s college graduation rate. The event, hosted by the Center for Houston’s Future, The Region’s Think Tank, was the last of the Center’s 2012 Summer Salon Series, which aims to convene cross-sector leadership from the greater Houston community to work on practical solutions to our region’s most critical issues.

Paul Moskowitz, Senior Vice President- Human Resources, at Sysco, the largest non-energy related company headquartered in Houston, and fervent supporter of K-12 and higher education, moderated the discussion. He provided valuable insight on the challenges that many local employers are experiencing in finding the skilled talent needed to fill current positions.

The conversation highlighted the Center’s bold new initiative, My Degree Counts, which aims to increase the region’s 2-year and 4-year college degree attainment by 1% by 2013, while adding $4.2 billion to the region’s economy annually. Particularly, guest panelists emphasized the critical role that nonprofits and academic institutions play in supporting students through post-secondary degree completion.

Panelist Claudia Vasquez, Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer of Neighborhood Centers, Inc. (NCI), described the education model employed throughout their extensive school system, which includes more than 30 education centers, serving emerging communities across the city. NCI, she says, is focusing on preparing students for college success, especially high school juniors and seniors. “We need to figure out how we can connect with employers to support those kids that are working and going to school so that they can successfully complete their degree.”

Steve Amstutz, Executive Director of Discover U, explained how his nonprofit, through its signature program, Fantastic Learning Opportunities (FLOs), allows high school students to explore novel learning experiences outside the traditional classroom. The FLOs expand their aspirations and develop the social, emotional, and academic skills essential for postsecondary success. Student success is “not just about academics,” says Amstutz. “It’s also about cultivating an ‘I-can- go- to-college’ spirit in students.”

Pam Campbell, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Educational Partnerships, at San Jacinto College, knows first-hand the challenges that students face while transitioning to college. Academic institutions can no longer afford to have a hands-off approach when it comes to their students’ success.
“We need to really focus on how to keep students in the system and help them move forward,” says Campbell. One way that San Jacinto College is working to do this is through their dual credit enrollment programs and early college high schools. Participation in these programs, which allow students to take college credit courses while in high school, significantly increases the odds that a student will go to college and complete their degree.

For more information on My Degree Counts, or to learn how you can get involved, visit the website at WWW.MYDEGREECOUNTS.COM.

Center for Houston’s Future, The Region’s Think Tank, is a 501 c(3) non-profit organization that works to solve our region’s toughest problems by providing meaningful research, defining innovative strategies, and engaging diverse leaders. To learn more, visit

Mercedes Santos-Garay
Manager – Communications & Events
Center for Houston’s Future
1200 Smith, Suite 1150, Houston, TX 77002 | 713-844-9328 | (F): 713-844-9348 | |
Center for Houston’s Future: The Region’s Think Tank

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