Texas public community colleges are funded differently than their four-year counterparts.
“Community colleges were formed by the taxpayers of an area, and so community colleges have tax revenue based on what those voters have approved,” San Jacinto College Chancellor Brenda Hellyer said.
The other two main portions of funding come from tuition and fees, and state appropriations. It’s been that way in Texas for about 50 years.
But Hellyer says it’s that last funding category that’s especially overdue for some rethinking.
“So the allocation between those three different sources has significantly changed,” Hellyer said. “At one point over those 50 years and for quite a bit of that time, community colleges were funded probably 65% from the state. Right now, that allocation is around 24 to 25% across the state for all community colleges. So [that’s] a big change, moving more dollars of the budget to property tax owners and to tuition and fees.”
The primary question facing the brand-new Commission on Community College Finance is whether that allocation currently makes sense.
The commission is made up of community college leaders, including Hellyer, along with lawmakers and business partners. It was created after the passage of SB 1230 in the 87th Texas Legislative session. The commission’s job is to make recommendations on community college funding for the 88th Texas Legislature. It held its first meeting on Monday.
“We’re looking across all aspects,” Hellyer said. “We’re looking at the funding model, we’re looking at the service and taxing areas. We’re looking at how do we make sure all Texans are being offered services across the state at comparable, equitable pricing? Community colleges take 100% of students that apply. And so we need to be out there in our communities and we need to be the resource.”
Hellyer says, for her, there’s no question that Texas needs to increase its role in supporting community colleges.
“It’s an investment for the future of Texas,” Hellyer said. “It’s an investment for our economy and it’s how we’re going to maintain our competitive advantage.”
Hellyer said the pandemic has underscored the important role community colleges play as they continue to offer short-term training to get people back into the workforce.
That’s also why Hellyer says part of the commission’s job over the next two years will be engaging with companies to help get the messaging out.