The coffers at Western Texas College are about as dry as the windswept West Texas plains that surround it. Reductions in state financing have been a literal drain—last year, the college cut costs by emptying its NCAA competition-sized pool.
“We have a large hole that used to be a swimming pool,” said Mike Dreith, the college’s president. “And we have a beautiful room designed to be a planetarium. It’s a nice, circular storage room now.”
Any more cuts would certainly mean faculty layoffs, said Patricia Claxton, the college’s chief financial officer. “We are already to the bone,” she said.
The remote institution in Snyder, population 11,000, has a shallow bench to begin with: Only two people in the town are qualified to teach public speaking at the collegiate level. One teaches at Western Texas, and the other is Dreith.
In rural West Texas, as with elsewhere in the state, community colleges play a pivotal role in the higher-education landscape, providing academic opportunities for students who are not able or willing to go away to universities to further their education. In Snyder, for example, it’s roughly a 100-mile drive to the nearest university. But the institutions also face unique financial challenges that demand creative solutions to keep the doors open and to help sustain the region.