The Texas Legislature is considering a new funding plan for the state’s community colleges — El Paso Matters | CarTailz

A proposed merit-based funding formula for Texas community college districts will benefit students and the economy, according to El Paso education leaders familiar with the proposal.

The 88th Texas Legislature will consider the Texas Commission on Community College Finance (TCCCF) recommendations during its next session, which begins in January. This is the first time in almost 50 years that the funding process can be revised.

The Commission proposes that most state funding should be based on measurable outcomes that match the needs of the regional and state workforce. These include degrees or certifications that lead students to additional education or higher income. The plan makes adjustments to pay for additional education for students who need remedial assistance or for older students who want retraining or upskilling.

The plan’s core funding will be supplemented with more financial support for students, seed grants to help colleges build programs in high-demand areas, and support for shared services between college districts. The proposal also includes paid internships and encourages short-term industry-recognized certifications.

The TCCCF expects that a more educated population will attract new jobs and investments that will benefit hundreds of thousands of students and employers, as well as the state.

El Paso Community College President William Serrata said he was familiar with the commission’s plan and he was excited about its prospects.

“I think they’ve come up with a great product,” said Serrata, executive committee chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC). The association, which represents the nation’s 50 community college districts, asked lawmakers in 2021 to overhaul the existing funding process. “We’re definitely happy with it.”

EPCC President William Serrata during an interview in his office in December 2021. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Serrata said it was too early to predict how the plan might affect the EPCC’s share of state funding, but added that the college will not see its share of funding reduced.

EPCC’s fiscal 2023 budget is $153 million, and 21% of that will come from government funds, compared to 72% of the budget in 1984, Serrata said. Founded in 1969 and opened three years later, the college had enrolled 24,203 students as of the fall of 2022.

The 12-member commission, made up of state legislators, policy experts and community college leaders, examined the funding issue and found that there is a need to invest in workforce training, particularly post-secondary skills in areas such as welding and Cisco networking training, where the People can design, build and maintain up to medium sized networks. Governor Greg Abbott appointed El Paso businessman Woody Hunt to head the commission.

“To meet these challenges, being incremental is not enough,” Hunt said in a letter to lawmakers accompanying the commission’s report. “We have to be brave”

In his letter, Hunt emphasized that the college district’s new funding model must be strategic, aligned with emerging labor needs, and based on strong collaboration with the state.

“Our commission believes the new funding model needs to do three things: reward colleges for positive outcomes, particularly in completion and transfer of transcripts, ensure equitable access through financial support, and help community colleges increase their capacity to to meet rapidly changing labor needs,” said Hunt.

State and college leaders believe these recommendations will increase the value of two-year degrees and credentials and boost the student population, which has declined during the pandemic.

A June story in BestColleges reported that U.S. community colleges have seen a 21% or 372,000 drop in full-time enrollment since the spring of 2020. In the same story, enrollments for part-time students also declined.

A 2020 Strada Gallup Education Consumer Survey found that previously enrolled students chose not to return due to cost concerns, a lack of confidence in their ability to succeed academically, and uncertainties about college choices and the job market. It also found that a third of surveyed students who did not earn a degree felt that a college degree was not worth the cost.

Serrata said that for years EPCC has focused on student outcomes and faster time to degree/certificate completion. Some of the college’s more successful certification programs are in the high-demand areas of automotive and healthcare. He suggested the college might consider additional qualifications for those who want to become professional drivers, and potential programs in electric vehicle maintenance, construction management, data analysis, hydraulics and logistics, as well as EKG technicians and occupational therapy assistants.

“Credentials will become even more important in the future,” said Serrata, who said up to 70% of all new jobs will require post-secondary education by 2030.

A student reviews a campus map on October 26 at El Paso Community College’s Valle Verde campus. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Jahaira Gonzalez said she found value in the two-year EPCC automotive technology certification she earned this summer. She used it to build a mobile general auto service business with her husband, who earned his Associate of Applied Science degree in auto technology from EPCC in 2020.

Gonzalez said higher education enabled them to start a successful business that pays for their home in Horizon City. She said they plan to open a brick and mortar store to expand their mobile business.

“(The qualification and the degree) was definitely worth the money,” Gonzalez said. “You pay for yourself.”

Officials familiar with the commission’s plan estimate it could cost up to $650 million, but the state’s overall revenue surplus of $27 billion should cover it.

“I am confident that the state has the resources to make this historic investment in community colleges,” said Jacob Fraire, former president and CEO of TACC, who is now director of policy and strategy at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Diana acts as Natalicio Institute for Hispanic Student Success.

Fraire said he and the TACC board understood that the existing formula was confusing and unsustainable.

The current formula is based on contact hours, which includes the number of students enrolled and the number of courses those students take, but despite the funding increases, some college districts received less money regardless of student enrollment numbers. College districts get most of their money from tuition and fees, government funds, and local property taxes. In the last legislature, the state allocated $2.17 billion to districts for the biennium.

Fraire called the commission’s report an important first step with many forward-looking, transformative recommendations, but said it was now up to the legislature to decide how the commission’s proposals could be tweaked and used.

Serrata said if state lawmakers speed up this proposal, it could be implemented in time for the fall 2023 semester.

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