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The community college crunch

Increasing enrollment and decreasing funding is a bad combination.

Community colleges, like most other state agencies and institutions of higher education, faced a 5 percent cut in state funding for 2010 and 2011. That was about $3.2 million each year for Lone Star and about $3.5 million a year for HCC. The future may bring a bigger hit, as Gov. Rick Perry has asked colleges and agencies to prepare for an additional 10 percent cut in 2012 and 2013.

Across the state, community college enrollment was up 13 percent last fall. Next fall, enrollment is predicted to be up even more.

“It’s unprecedented, in that you see growth in all the (community college) districts, and in this kind of a budget environment,” [Steven Johnson, a spokesman for the Texas Association of Community Colleges] said. “Most colleges are seeing this as the beginning of a long process, trying to manage that enrollment growth with shrinking resources.”

I presume part of the reason for the increase in community college enrollment is the increasingly unaffordable cost of a four-year university, especially in this economic environment. It may also be the start of a new trend, with more students preferring this route either as a pathway to a cheaper four-year degree, or as a perfectly acceptable alternative to one. Whatever the reason, it seems clear we’re as bent on screwing it up for those who need it as we are for those who aren’t college age yet. The budget situation for this biennium is just an excuse. You’ll note that we never did anything to make public universities more affordable after the deficit-inspired tuition deregulation of 2003. I fear that whatever we do now to make community colleges less accessible will never be undone, either. Hell of a way to pave the way for the future generations, that’s all I know.

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