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Texas, Your Students Need You — and You Need Them - March 26, 2007

students in the Rotunda

Recently, more than 1,500 community college students converged in Austin on the steps of the Capitol for Community College Student Day. They represented all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic and educational backgrounds – they literally were the face of Texas. And they all had one common purpose – to share their appreciation for the affordable, quality education they receive at local community colleges. Each student went to Austin with a simple message for legislators: Now is the time to make community colleges a priority.

Our legislators face the tough challenge of providing funds for all the needs of our state. Among those needs is increased funding for community colleges, which is an investment that simply makes economic sense. We should ask ourselves: What would Texas’ future look like without the opportunities that our state’s community colleges provide? Imagine an emergency room with no nurses or emergency medical technicians. Think about classrooms with fewer teachers or businesses without staffs or entire corporations without computer science specialists.

Every day we interact with community college graduates who either have completed their associate degrees and transferred to universities for bachelor’s or advanced degrees or who have finished professional technical certificates that enable them to contribute to our daily lives.   

Without community college graduates in 2007, we would face drastic shortages like these: 11,000 health care professionals in Texas would disappear; 1,300 firefighters who keep us safe would not be available for duty; 6,300 office professionals who keep our businesses running would be missing; and thousands of avionic technicians who keep our airplanes flying and mechanics who keep our cars running would not show up for work.

Currently, more than half a million students now are enrolled in community colleges; that enrollment represents 75 percent of all freshmen and sophomores in Texas and 78 percent of all minority freshmen and sophomores as well. Many of these students might never attend college at all without the affordable, convenient option they have in their own neighborhoods or across town.

As the state’s population grows and more students decide to enter the realm of higher education through the doors of the state’s community colleges, we must respond by providing more faculty, classrooms, laboratories, libraries, staff and facilities to help those students succeed. We also must reach the goals of the state’s “Closing the Gaps” initiative so that more than 600,000 additional students – many of them representing the state’s minority groups – will go to college. Without those students and future graduates, the Texas workforce will be woefully under-educated, and the average family income will drop significantly — several thousand dollars annually, according to state demographer Dr. Steve Murdock — which means less tax revenue for the state.

The current appropriations bills being considered by the legislature do not go far enough to benefit our students, communities and economic development initiatives. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has recommended nearly $600 million in additional funding for community colleges because they know that the state’s community colleges will be the primary point where existing education gaps are closed. However, we are not seeking a “blank check” from the state. We do support defined accountability and outcome measures because we are committed to the success of our students.

We are fortunate that the North Texas legislative delegation understands the crucial role our colleges play in our communities. We look forward to working with them to ensure that our students have access to higher education through increased financial aid opportunities, additional programs and facilities, and the qualified faculty needed to teach and meet their needs.

All community colleges across the state — including Collin County Community College District, Dallas County Community College District and Tarrant County College District — urge our legislators to support the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s recommendation for full formula funding so that we all can achieve the “Closing the Gaps” initiative and support the ultimate success of our students. 

More than 100,000 students from across the metroplex are enrolled in credit courses in Collin, Dallas and Tarrant counties. They will be tomorrow’s nurses, radiology technicians, teachers, attorneys, culinary masters, automotive technicians, sociologists, firefighters, EMTs and counselors, to name only a few. As enrollments increase — if funding is available — and the face of the state changes, community colleges will be here to help students and communities build a better future, a solid economy and a well-educated country. We need both the support and the funding that legislators and taxpayers can provide. Our students deserve it.

Jointly submitted by:

Dr. Cary A. Israel, President
Collin County Community College District

Dr. Wright Lassiter Jr., Chancellor
Dallas County Community College District

Dr. Leonardo de la Garza, Chancellor
Tarrant County College District