Community colleges fretting about less funding

Posted Monday, Jan. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texas community colleges hope to get students from around the state to spend Feb. 5 on real-world learning that might be called Influencing Austin 101.

Community college leaders are fretful about initial budgets for 2014-15 because the numbers penciled in are less than the current two-year appropriation: $1.64 billion instead of $1.73 billion.

The schools can't rest primarily on the "booming enrollment" argument, because fewer students signed up in fall 2012 than in 2011, and this spring's numbers are down from the fall. But leaders say they're still struggling from lack of adequate state funding for growth during the recession years.

Tarrant County College, for instance, gained 15,000 students over six years, Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley has said.

Community colleges are after "adequate funding" from the Legislature. But so is everyone else competing for state money. What does it mean?

Leaders should focus on the increasing importance of community colleges. They traditionally have prepared students for jobs requiring one-year certificates or two-year degrees and have provided specialized workforce training.

But community colleges also are the gateway for students who are the first in their families to pursue higher education; they're serving large numbers of military veterans; and they offer lower-cost basic classes for students who intend to pursue four-year degrees. The schools also have become a key remediation resource for students who graduated from high school but still lack basic academic skills.

Those functions are likely to expand, especially as universities get more expensive and as community colleges work more closely with high schools on dual-credit courses and easier transition of students into higher ed.

State leaders say they want Texas' education system to produce the workers needed to keep the economy thriving. That will mean putting money behind the rhetoric.

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