MCC starts hospitality degree program as interest in development near Baylor, downtown soars

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Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 12:01 am

McLennan Community College is starting a new hospitality degree program to help meet expected growth in the hotel and tourism industry fueled by Baylor University’s new football stadium and ongoing development in downtown Waco.

The college expects to roll out the new program this fall with both a one-year certificate and an associate’s degree in hospitality management and services.

The program will include courses like guest room management, health sanitation and safety, human resources management, marketing and sales, accounting and legal issues. Students also will be required to complete an internship.

MCC’s board of trustees approved the initiative last week, and the college is awaiting final approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Ron Epps, MCC’s dean of workforce education, said the college began to consider creating a hospitality degree two years ago at the request of the Greater Waco Hotel and Lodging Association, which lamented the lack of an available workforce trained for supervisory positions in hotels.

“As I understand it, many times what they see in the hotel/motel industry is that people come, they get a little experience, and they move on,” Epps said. “They need lodging managers . . . and they’ve worked with us very closely to make sure that we create a well-rounded curriculum that would be something they could use in their employees.”

Jennifer Scott is the general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott on University Parks Drive and serves as president of the lodging association.

She said local hotels often are competing against Dallas and Austin in retaining qualified staff to run their facilities.

She said having a local training program through MCC would boost the local pool of manager and supervisor candidates.

For example, University High School has a hospitality program, and those students would be prime recruitment targets to further their study in the field at MCC.

“The challenge is to get the word out that the hospitality industry is a great place to work,” Scott said. “One of our goals is to just make sure that we’re attracting the talent within the city. If they can get a local degree or certification, then we’re already grooming people to help fill the needs in the current places that are here now and the future builds.”

New hotel developments have continued to grow in the Waco area in recent years, such as Hotel Indigo downtown, Best Western Atria in Woodway and Ramada Inn in Hewitt.

In addition, a new Holiday Inn Express is under construction in the Legends Crossing development near Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, while plans are being finalized for a new hotel near the Cottonwood Creek Golf Course.

Kris Collins, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said hotel and tourism continues to be one of the fastest-growing industries both locally and across the state.

Hotel accommodation and food-service jobs accounted for 2,950 local jobs in 2012, a figure that grew by 21 percent during the previous decade, according to a report by Texas Economic Development and Tourism. Hotel and motel spending in the area also totaled $193 million in 2012.

The chamber has fielded inquiries about possible new hotel development downtown and near the Brazos River, in part because of Baylor’s soon-to-open McLane Stadium just off Interstate 35.

Collins pointed out that increasing downtown development and upgrades at various local tourist attractions, such as the expansion of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the renovation of the Waco Convention Center, are helping draw more visitors to the Waco area.

“All of those things are attracting people and making Waco a destination place for conventions and trade shows, and for families in general,” Collins said. “We have a lot of amenities for people to take advantage of, and they’re seeing Waco as a great place for a weekend getaway . . . without having to go to Dallas or Austin or Houston.”

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