Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced the creation of the Parallel Pathways to Success Pilot Grant Program. The initiative is designed to fund projects in rural Texas communities that give students the opportunity to earn workforce skills and training, and earn college credit prior to graduation. The Texas Department of Agriculture is currently accepting proposals for the grants.

“With 46 percent of high school graduates choosing not to pursue a college education annually in Texas, we must present another route – a parallel pathway – to the workforce,” Commissioner Staples said. “Life is not about equal outcomes; it’s about equal opportunities. Parallel Pathways to Success is a win-win strategy giving students real-life workforce training and sending a signal to entrepreneurs and investors that Texas is serious about providing them a talented workforce.”

Eligible programs would be those that are the result of a partnership between a high school and a local business, in which students are trained to meet the workforce needs of that employer. The grant program will also fund initiatives that provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit and even an associate degree upon high school graduation. One such program, a partnership between the East Williamson County Higher Education Center (EWCHEC), Temple College and the Hutto and Taylor Independent School Districts, gives students the opportunity to take college courses starting their freshman year of high school.

“This partnership is a tremendous opportunity for rural community learners,” Dr. Chuck McCarter, executive dean of EWCHEC, said. “With an 88 percent retention rate, high school students from Hutto and Taylor have shown an eagerness to not only earn a quality education, but also acquire the skills that are necessary to place them in the workforce.”

TDA has allocated $500,000 to award grants to eligible high schools, institutions of higher learning, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations or similar organizations located in the state of Texas that provide parallel pathways for rural students to enter the workforce.

The deadline for applications is Aug. 17, 2009. The required forms are available at www.TexasAgriculture.gov or by e-mail at finance@TexasAgriculture.gov.