Our state Legislature is currently facing some crucial challenges in adequately funding education for the future of Texas. The public school funding cuts of 2011 and the current crisis in school finance have been widely publicized. Public universities and health science centers always seem to need more state funds and have numerous needs and requests. Lost in the middle of all this attention being given to adequate funding is the plight of the state’s community and junior colleges.
Texas’ 50 public community colleges not only are almost lost in the much greater funding requests of universities and public schools, but also are sometimes overlooked in the role they play as pathways to success for many Texans. Seventy percent of all college freshmen and sophomores in the state are now enrolled in community colleges. Fifty percent of all students in higher education are enrolled in community colleges taking courses preparing for transfer or job skills. Community colleges now offer concurrent or “dual credit” courses to more than 100,000 students still in high school, thereby saving their parents millions of dollars of future university tuition while offering a head start on college. Almost 60 percent of all registered nurses and the majority of all health care workers and first responders are prepared for their careers by community colleges. These affordable and locally accessible colleges also educate and train citizens for a variety of high-demand jobs in business and industry which require certificates and skills but not a four-year degree.
Community colleges are widely recognized as important gateways to higher education and jobs and as the principal portals to economic growth, but they are often “lost” in overall educational funding discussions. Although half of all college students attend community colleges, these low-cost colleges receive only about 15 percent of all state dollars for higher education.