Bridges, the metaphorical kind, were a recurring theme inside a room of college and business leaders Thursday. They spoke about building bridges from high school to college, from students to jobs, and from college programs to business partnerships. 

“Y’all, it is our focus on building bridges with industries in our region that has allowed University of Texas at Arlington to become a top supplier of talent for so many companies in Dallas-Fort Worth,” said UTA President Jennifer Cowley. 

Cowley spoke at a Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s second annual “State of Higher Education” event at UTA’s College Park Center. Hundreds of business and college leaders attended to learn about the economic impact and strategic plans of Tarrant County College and UTA, both anchor institutions in the area.

For business leaders, their interest in higher education stems from a shared desire to educate talent and keep it in Tarrant County. Around 2.2 million people live in Tarrant County, according to chamber leaders, and North Texas is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Each year, around 8,000 students graduate from TCC, according to college officials, and 88% of them stay in Tarrant County. UTA produces about 12,000 graduates each year.

“The fuel that drives our economic engine is what brings us here today. UTA and the Tarrant County College District impact more than 100,000 students a year educating the future and current leaders of our community,” said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

TCC Chancellor Elva LeBlanc talked about the college’s 240 degree and certificate programs that educate students to go on to crucial fields, from nurses and welders to cybersecurity pros and auto technicians.

“All of this makes TCC an institution of higher purpose,” she said. “Agility is our superpower. Entrepreneurialism is our mindset. We are constantly reinventing ourselves to address the educational and training needs of the 1,200-plus North Texas partners who support us.”

Cowley talked about UTA’s accomplishments connected to the community and its vision for the future. There are summer programs for kids, where they can learn things from structural engineering to filmmaking; a partnership with Grand Prairie for internships in accounting, real estate, public administration and criminal justice; a workforce development program that educates 30,000 people each year; and a planned hospitality program in the restaurant and hotel industry that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2025.

“We have made tremendous progress over recent decades, rising to become a national research university,” Cowley said. “And this new plan lays out our path forward to accelerate our progress and deepen our connections as an engaged anchor institution right here in Arlington.” 

Both institutions will celebrate banner years in 2025: 60 years for TCC, and 130 years for UTA.

Higher education reporter at Fort Worth Report in partnership with Open Campus.