Friday, March 23, 2012

Another Great Texas Idea – Starve the Rural Community Colleges That Serve as the Engine of Economic Growth

Children of Millionaires Don’t Attend So It Doesn’t Really Matter

The news out of Texas just gets worse and worse, it’s like the state has adopted a strategic plan to self destruct.  In Texas the concept of a war on poverty means a war to expand poverty, not to eradicate it.  The latest casualties are the rural community colleges, the ones that provide the only opportunity for rural Texans who cannot afford $30,000 a year colleges to get an advanced education.

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. 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.

Economizing is rampant.

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 N.C.A.A. competition-size pool.

Okay, the college can survive without a pool, but not without faculty.

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.

Community colleges are critical for many reasons.  They allow students to complete the first two years of college without the expense of  a major four year university, which they can then attend for the last two years.  They also train and educate a local work force, which is key to attracting new companies and for expanding local businesses.

And it not as though the communities are not supporting the local rural schools, taxes for community college are high in rural areas.

Mr. Duncan noted that in addition to state appropriations declining, which means schools are increasingly relying on tuition and local taxes, a quirk in the taxing system can limit financing for such colleges.

South Plains College in Levelland, for example, serves an area in the Panhandle that is larger than some states, but it can collect taxes only from its local area. Though it is the main feeder for Texas Tech University in Lubbock, its tax base does not extend the 30 miles to the city.

Rural West Texas colleges, therefore, must generate significant local buy-in. The community college tax rates around South Plains and Western Texas are more than double those for colleges in urban areas like Austin or Dallas.

 But there is only so much they can do.  Texas is a very rich, very wealthy state, which, as the Governor is always reminding everybody is doing quite fine economically.  But the priorities of Texas Republicans who control the state are low taxes for wealthy people, along with low taxes for wealthy people. (Did we mention they also want low taxes for wealthy people).  And if that means dooming thousands of men and women who aren’t wealthy to a life of economic deprivation due to lack of a college education, well that’s too bad isn't it.  They should have chosen wealthier parents, shouldn’t they.

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