Texas Community Colleges Find Creative Ways To Work Around Diminishing Funding In Response To Low Enrollment Rate

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board released its preliminary enrollment for Texas schools in the fall of 2021, revealing an 11% loss in Texas community college enrollment since 2019.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has had a disparate impact on community colleges, and she touched everyone,” said Jacob Fraire, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC). “When we look reductions in enrollment, there is no pattern between urban and rural areas. Everyone has seen reductions.

Jacob Fraire, President of TACCTexas’ 50 community colleges got some sort of reprieve from the state legislature, Fraire said. Normally, a drop in enrollment statewide would impact the total state funding. During the pandemic, the Texas legislature did not cut overall funding.

However, the state distributes the funding every two years, using a formula that takes into account enrollments. Schools that experienced reduced enrollment in fall 2020, the year funding was distributed, received less than their previous allocation of public funds. Twenty-one colleges were negatively affected.

As the deadlines of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) law and the Higher Education Emergency Assistance Fund (HEERF) come to an end, the additional federal funding that could have dissipated the Short term financial worries will disappear. During his 87th legislature held earlier this year, the Texas government created the Commission on Community College Finance which will study the funding needs of community colleges across the state and make recommendations for the funding formula to be presented to the 88th Legislature. in December 2022. The commission meets for the first time next week. But until the committee has completed its recommendations, funding for community colleges will continue to be based on enrollment in the COVID era.

Dr Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College at Columbia University, said that since community colleges in the United States are primarily funded by enrollment, a sort of downward spiral could begin. for institutions that lose students.

“Fewer students means cuts to services and programs, and we could see a bigger drop. This is the worst case scenario, ”said Brock. “These enrollment challenges underscore the need for community colleges to make critical reforms to ensure that students get the support, structure, programs, courses and guidance they need.”

The biggest drop in enrollment demographics in Texas came from black and Latinx students. As black student enrollment continued to decline, there was some rebound for Latinx students, but “nowhere near the enrollment numbers for fall 2019,” Fraire said.

The biggest impact on enrollment at Texas community colleges has come from the first enrollment of students, those who enroll immediately after graduating from high school. Texas was already a little behind the country for first-time registrations, falling 15 percentage points nationwide ahead of the pandemic, Fraire said.

Since 2019, “we saw a 20% decrease in Texas [for first time enrolling students], said Fraire. “This is huge. National data tells us that students who delay enrollment in any college are significantly less likely to graduate in their lifetime.

Amarillo College is fighting these odds. Serving 34 school districts and 26 counties in and around the Texas enclave, their enrollment numbers have jumped back and forth over the COVID years. But overall, they saw their registration numbers for the first time increase. Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, president of Amarillo College, attributes this counter-trend to his institution’s local college pledge program.

“It’s for anyone in our local Amarillo independent school district who just graduated from high school,” Lowery-Hart said of the initiative. “It’s a last dollar program that covers books, tuition, and fees. If you are an Amarillo graduate in good standing, you can come to Amarillo College for free.

Four local community organizations, Amarillo College, Amarillo Independent School Districts, Amarillo Area Foundation, and Amarillo Economic Development Corporation came together to create the Promise program on an experimental basis.

Dr Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo CollegeDr. Russell Lowery-Hart, president of the College Amarillo“This is our community’s investment in our long-term economic plan to raise educational attainment and convince students to stay in our rural community,” said Lowery-Hart. “We have learned to never place our financial future in the hands of a politician’s promise.”

Despite the trend against the trend of new student enrollments and an overall growth in their numbers in fall 2021, as enrollments were down in fall 2020, Amarillo College received $ 2 million in funding. less in public funding than it received for its registrations in fall 2018.

“Now our goal is really to retain the students that we have,” continued Lowery-Hart. “The culture of caring for which we are known is deepening. Now every student goes through assessments on their financial health and well-being, and we try to make sure that there are no obstacles in the way of life. We have a real idea of ​​the difficulty of our students. “

The Lone Star College, which serves mainly the urban area around Houston was one of the few not to have recorded significant drop Registration in autumn 2020. As a result, they received more funding the State than in previous years, winning the second highest credit of the state, according to Chancellor Dr. Steve Head.

“We are the anomaly,” Head said. “Most community colleges in the greater Houston area were under 10 [percentage points] or.

Head cites two reasons for his institution’s success, the first being Lone Star’s pre-pandemic mission to increase retention and completion, especially for black and Latinx students. The second change Head made was to increase funding for its marketing department. The school increased advertising on television, radio and billboards.

“I realize this is old school,” Head said, “But it’s usually parents who make the decisions in COVID,” and he felt those types of ads were the best way to reach them. Prospective students, Head said, were already in contact with Lone Star on social media.

Each percentage point of enrollment, Head said, equates to about 800 full-time students, or $ 1.2 million in funding for the school.

“It’s counting state money,” he said. “So it’s important that we spend the money to make sure the students and parents know what we’re doing. It is an ongoing effort in marketing, communication and perception.

Creative thinking will be needed for community colleges to protect themselves from declining enrollment income, said Dr. Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit focused on student success in community colleges. . Community college leaders, Stout said, need to think differently about how to demonstrate their value to funders.

“It’s easy to say, we have more students, so we need more money,” Stout said. “But I think we need to think about how what we’re doing creates a vibrant community.”

If community colleges can convince local players to support their mission, then, Stout said, enrollment won’t matter as much as the impact of education on his community.

Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected].

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