Our state Legislature is currently facing some crucial challenges in adequately funding education for the future of Texas. The public school funding cuts of 2011 and the current crisis in school finance have been widely publicized. Public universities and health science centers always seem to need more state funds and have numerous needs and requests. Lost in the middle of all this attention being given to adequate funding is the plight of the state’s community and junior colleges.
Texas’ 50 public community colleges not only are almost lost in the much greater funding requests of universities and public schools, but also are sometimes overlooked in the role they play as pathways to success for many Texans. Seventy percent of all college freshmen and sophomores in the state are now enrolled in community colleges. Fifty percent of all students in higher education are enrolled in community colleges taking courses preparing for transfer or job skills. Community colleges now offer concurrent or “dual credit” courses to more than 100,000 students still in high school, thereby saving their parents millions of dollars of future university tuition while offering a head start on college. Almost 60 percent of all registered nurses and the majority of all health care workers and first responders are prepared for their careers by community colleges. These affordable and locally accessible colleges also educate and train citizens for a variety of high-demand jobs in business and industry which require certificates and skills but not a four-year degree.
Community colleges are widely recognized as important gateways to higher education and jobs and as the principal portals to economic growth, but they are often “lost” in overall educational funding discussions. Although half of all college students attend community colleges, these low-cost colleges receive only about 15 percent of all state dollars for higher education.
State expenditures per student have been cut in recent years and there were no increases in funding following 20 percent enrollment growth in the recession years of 2009-2010 due to a very tight state budget. Many colleges, including Angelina, have had to recently raise tuition to partially offset losses in state funding. Although community colleges remain an affordable “bargain” for quality education, we need to avoid any major tuition increases in the upcoming years.
Fortunately, a number of key legislators and policymakers realize that community college funding now needs to be addressed in order to move the state forward. While the legislature is “fixing” public school finance, attention must also be given to the equity and adequacy of community college tax bases and funding. As limited state dollars become available for higher education in this new biennial budget, community colleges must become a priority.
House appropriation and Senate finance committee members are working diligently to try to restore some of the cuts in funding both student enrollment and employee benefits, while developing a new funding model based on student completion and success. This new model would seek predictability, stability and equity, and give the state more control of future costs.
Squarely in the middle of the state’s P-16 educational system is the community college, the gateway to success for many students. We cannot let adequate funding for community colleges get lost in the much larger and more publicized budget issues.
Dr. Larry Phillips is president of Angelina College. His email address is email@example.com.