Economist creates community snapshot for OC

Odessa College’s Senior Research Economist Blair Roberts puts pieces of data together to construct a more complete picture of the college and community population.

This helps with what courses are offered and generally the population OC serves.

The student population is a little more than 60 percent Hispanic and about 5 percent Black.

As a community, Roberts said, the poverty rate in Ector County is 13 percent, compared to 14.2 percent in Texas.

This is from the American Community Survey through the Census Bureau.

Roberts uses data from the Census Bureau, Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Education Agency.

“… The purpose of it is just to provide a general overview of who we serve. … When you’re in Odessa, and I always include Midland, even though Midland’s not in our service area … because … some of our students who come through here will graduate and move to Midland,” Roberts said.

When you stay close to Odessa, Midland and Andrews, for example, those cities are similar.

“But when you really get out into Presidio and those areas is when it changes. The type of industries will change. We’re primarily petroleum in Midland-Odessa and as you get out further west, you get more agriculture and you get more tourism … (because) you’re picking up Big Bend,” Roberts said.

Ector County’s population according to the 2020 Census was 165,000.

“That has been since 2010 about a 20% growth rate and population in Ector County,” Roberts said.

He added that the median age in the county is 30.6.

“So we are a relatively young county compared to Texas, which is 34.8. The United States is 38.2. For Ector County, 30% of our population is under the age of 18,” Roberts said.

A little more than 76 percent of the population has at least a high school diploma or a GED. The percentage of those with less than a high school diploma is 23.4.

That’s for people above 25 years old.

“… Our attainment rate is lower than the state of Texas for bachelor’s degrees or higher. We’re like 16.6% and Texas is 30.7. …,” he added.

The attainment rate for at least a high school diploma is higher in Texas and the U.S. than Ector County, hes said.

The median income of households in Ector County is $63,096. In Midland County, it’s $83,217.

This is Roberts’ 12th year with Odessa College.

“My duties include data analysis, which is the primary IE (Institutional Effectiveness) function. But a lot of that deals with labor statistics, so I look at the programs that we offer and how they align with your regional market. So are people who graduate from OC, or get a certificate from OC, do they have the opportunity to move into a good field which is going to provide a good salary and good stability. And of course, you get something like nursing and the answer is yes, of course,” Roberts said.

He added that he gathers information on how an industry looks, how much people in it earn and job growth prospects so different departments have data to support whether they should move forward with offering a course.

Roberts also looks at graduation and transfer rates, where students are transferring to and how long it takes students to graduate.

This information is collected by any Institutional Effectiveness department, whether it’s OC, University of Texas Permian Basin or Midland College, Roberts said.

The top transfer destination for most OC students is UTPB, he said. Texas Tech and Midland College to some degree are also preferences.

Roberts is able to collect average wages of different cities such as Midland, Odessa, Lubbock and Amarillo.

“I will list it by city as appropriate. I’m able to also get average wages for the Permian Basin Workforce Development area,” Roberts said.

“I also will do Texas and I will do the United States. Then I look at job growth prospects, what’s the estimated annual job openings, are they projecting and those projections come from the Texas Workforce Commission, unless I’m looking at United States data. And the United States data, it’s coming from ONET,” he added.

ONET is a federal government website that shows all occupations, what the occupations do, what kind of skill set is necessary for the occupation and what kind of academic background is necessary. He said anyone can access the site.

“Then they also provide some wages as well for that occupation,” Roberts said.

He took a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and majored in economics and minored in education. He also has two master’s degrees, one in economics from Baylor University and a master’s degree in education from UTPB.

Roberts has taught at the high school and college levels. He did some institutional effectiveness work part time at OC.

“I just liked going through the data, going through the numbers,” he said.

Roberts grew up in Odessa, graduating from Permian High School. His father, Joel Roberts, was the city attorney for decades.

A school teacher most of his life, Roberts worked for the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas as an economic education specialist. He prepared economic material for use in mostly high school classrooms and to give presentations about how to teach the material.

“I was at the Fed during the financial crisis of 2008. We got called into a room and there were about maybe 10 of us … media marketing people” and economic specialists, Roberts recalled.

“They said tomorrow’s going be a bad day,” he added. “And so that’s kind of when everything started to happen and then that was … the last I heard of that because we were focused on very specific things, the non-economy stuff. We focus on the teaching of economics. I got fascinated in the history of money; American money …,” Roberts said.

Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness Janice M. Hicks said Roberts plays an important role in her department.

“In the Senior Research Economist role, Blair Roberts provides the OC leadership team with labor market intelligence data that ensures our academic and workforce programs are aligned with the current and future economic needs in the Permian Basin — allowing us to remain cutting-edge in contributing to the talent pipeline in our region. As a result of his diligent work, Odessa College is able to help students identify the best credential of value that leads to social mobility for their families, and ultimately, the community,” Hicks said.