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Texas Legislature bills could affect junior college funds

Marshall Cearfoss

Managing Editor

The 85th Texas Legislature is in session now. Several bills have been introduced that may affect community college funding if passed.

“Trying to influence funding that will benefit community colleges is vital to me,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Juan Mejia. “I don’t go just to hear. I go if there’s something I can actually speak on, testify.”

Mejia has visited Austin numerous times this year in an attempt to ensure proper consideration for bills affecting community colleges. While 28 of the proposed bills would financially affect TJC if passed, Mejia’s focus is on a select few bills. The primary proposals mentioned are House bill 832 by Representative Travis Clardy and Senate bill 834 by Senator Bryan Hughes. They address our four-year degree program in Dental Hygiene. The two bills were written in partnership with almost identical language.

“We’re in a pilot status. … HB 832, by Representative Clardy, is to remove that pilot status, saying that we’ve done everything [the House] asked,” said Mejia. “We’ve gotten legislative designation, we’ve gotten approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and we were approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as a baccalaureate-granting institution.”

Although TJC received permission to offer a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene during the 84th Legislative session in 2015, the “pilot status” means that the program still isn’t allotted the same amount of state funding as other baccalaureate-granting programs. In 2003, South Texas College, Brazosport College and Midland College all received pilot-status permissions, but have since been receiving funding for those programs that is equivalent to university-level programs. That is the goal Mejia is attempting to reach with these bills.

“It would be a vote of confidence to have the pilot removed. … If the bill passes, the funding we will get will be the same thing the universities are [receiving] for their programs,” said Mejia. “Which, they get a lot more money for the same programs we offer. We’re not in any way trying to compare to a university, but we do know there’s a precedent already with three other community colleges that get funding at a higher level, and we’re thinking, what’s the difference in East Texas? Just fund us appropriately.”

TJC Vice President and Financial and Administrative Affairs/CFO Sarah Van Cleef is also involved in requesting proper funding for the institution. She explains how difficult fighting for college funding can be.

“We, in higher education, are discretionarily funded. … They’re going to take care of certain pockets — probably health, prisons, public education … those are going to be funded,” said Van Cleef. “Then whatever’s left over is funded to the discretionarily funded groups. And all of higher education is in that group.”

This situation becomes even more complicated when considering the fact that state appropriations, which primarily involves House bill 1 along with Senate bill 1, has decreased for higher education institutions over several years. As state funding for colleges reduces, tuition and local taxes must increase to balance the cost.

“We want to be sensitive and not pass the cost off to the community or the students,” said Mejia.

Other notable measures being reviewed are House bills 4089 and 3766 by Representatives Rick Miller and J.M. Lozano, respectively. If passed, these bills could affect eligibility for recipients of the Hazlewood Act. The Hazlewood Act is a state mandate for public institutions to pay for the tuition of veterans and their dependents. Since this is neither a state-funded program nor a scholarship, it comes directly from the institutions’ funds. These bills aim to increase the active-duty days necessary for people to receive the financial benefits, along with reducing the time after service when dependents can take advantage of the Act.

For more information on the 85th Legislature and specific bills, visit http://www.capitol.state.tx.us.

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