A student finishes classes for the day at El Paso Community College's Valle Verde campus. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

A newly formed state commission created to address the funding of community colleges will be the first to undertake the effort in nearly 50 years.

Created during the 87th Texas Legislature by state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the Commission on Community College Finance is a 12-member group tasked with making recommendations about the state’s funding formula for community colleges ahead of the 88th Texas Legislature in 2023.

El Pasoan Woody Hunt, the commission’s presiding officer, was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott. The rest of the commission is composed of two state senators, two state representatives and community members.

“I think the role of the commission is to go through a process that creates credibility around our recommendations so that we can convince the Legislature, and the executive branch, that these policies are worth investing in,” Hunt said.

William Serrata

El Paso Community College President William Serrata, who also is president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said state funding has decreased drastically for community colleges.

“In 1984, 72% of EPCCs budget was state appropriations and now (state) appropriations account for about 23% of our budget, so it’s little less than a third,” he said. “And so other parts of the funding mechanisms have to make up for that budget.”

Tuition and local property taxes now make up the majority of the school’s budget, Serrata said.

“Back in 1973, there weren’t 50 community colleges in existence,” Serrata said, referring to the current number of community colleges in Texas. “That’s the last time they looked at the funding.”

The commission will also be an essential step in increasing the state’s competitiveness nationally and internationally, Hunt said.

“The best way to look at that (competitiveness) is if you don’t have the certificates or degrees to do the jobs, or the higher paying jobs, they’ll go somewhere else,” he said. “Or we’ll have jobs but they won’t be as high paying. So I look at it as lost income and lost opportunity.”

Woody Hunt

In 2017, community colleges enrolled 46% of higher education students in Texas. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, national trends have shown a 10% decrease in enrollment since last year. EPCC saw a 6% drop this fall semester, following a 10% decrease the year before.

“The community colleges are where it all connects for several reasons. They provide most of the job training; probably 90% of that takes place in the community college systems,” Hunt said. “They are disproportionately of color as far as their student body, which is where we have a significant gap in educational outcomes. And so the community college success is really going to determine whether the state is going to be able to meet (certain) goals.”

The commission has met twice in Austin and will meet once more in January before dividing itself into three subcommittees that focus on institutions, student success and employers, Hunt said.

“We’re taking testimony from those both within the state and out of the state that we need to hear from on about best practices and what our alternatives might be as far as funding our community colleges,” he said.

A final report with collected data and testimonies will be submitted to Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.

“We’re not going to add value to the long-term solution if we come up with policies that get funded in the short term, but then are not sustainable over time. So our challenge is (creating a) best policy that’s going to be sustainable and argue for that sustainable investment through the legislative process,” Hunt said. “But it’s certainly a persuasion that’s based on good data, but beyond that, it’s up to the Legislature.”

Cover photo: A student finishes classes for the day at El Paso Community College’s Valle Verde campus. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Disclosure: The Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters.

Jewél Jackson covers higher education for El Paso Matters, through a partnership with Open Campus Media. She is a 2020 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.