Community Colleges Grapple With State Budget Deficits

CISCO, Texas – Community colleges are struggling with pending budget cuts from state coffers. The news comes at a particularly inopportune time for most community colleges that are experiencing double-digit enrollment increases, including Cisco College.

Gov. Rick Perry had already asked various state agencies to slash 5 percent from their budgets. Then last month Perry asked agencies to plan for an additional 10 percent cut during the following budget biennium to help the state deal with an $18 billion shortfall.

Cisco College currently operates with the lowest revenue per contact hour in the state so the college already does more with less than other community colleges. Additionally, the college missed out on an opportunity during the last funding cycle to qualify for a small school supplement, unlike Ranger College who received an additional $1 million dollars.

West Texas colleges that qualified for the small school supplement in 2009-2010 included: Clarendon College, Frank Phillips College, Howard College, Vernon College and Ranger College. All of the schools posted local tax rates of at least $.22 per $100 valuation. Because Cisco College’s tax rate is only $.11 per $100 valuation, it did not qualify.

“A small school supplement would have added approximately $1.3 million to the college’s budget,” said Dr. Colleen Smith, president of Cisco College. “The only reason we didn’t qualify was because our tax rate is too low by state standards.”

Tax rates vary across the state and are set by each local taxing district. The funding supplement would have helped the college expand programs for its 4,200 students and would have increased the economic impact of the college on the community.

According to a study conducted in 2008 by Dr. Monty Lynn, with the center for business and economic research and associate dean at Abilene Christian University, the annual economic impact of Cisco College on the City of Cisco was $20.8 million. With an increase of funding from the state, that impact would have increased.

Cisco College is expected to enroll almost 5,000 students by 2015. State and national workforce predictions project community colleges to be at the heart of the next decade’s economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for those with an associate’s degree will grow 19 percent by 2018, the highest rate of all education levels.

Those projections do not make the cuts any easier for community colleges today, but they do lend credence to the value of community colleges as economic catalysts both locally as well as nationally.