Students protest community college cuts at Capitol

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Temperatures in the teens and strong winds didn’t stop the crowd of more than 500 students that rallied at the Capitol in response to the proposed 30-percent budget cuts for community colleges in Texas. “We have 50 community college districts, and this will impact all of them,” said Dr. Reynaldo Garcia, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Students and faculty members wore buttons contrasting the 30-percent budget cut with the 20-percent increase in the enrollment rate at community colleges. Spokesman for the association Steven Johnson said the aim of the event was to create awareness of the role that community colleges play in higher education and an opportunity for students to speak to the Legislature about how the budget cuts are affecting them. “The other concern is that the budget shortfall cuts employee health care reimbursement significantly, and it cuts retirement, which is going to impact faculty and the ability for colleges to both hire and retain new faculty,” Johnson said. Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, spoke about what legislatures are doing for community colleges in Texas. “The muscles of higher education are our community colleges,” Branch said. With 800,000 students enrolled in community college across Texas, Branch said they are going to watch the budget cuts closely and work with their local communities. “We are going to try and get enough funding so you still have quality faculty and curriculum in place,” Branch said. Tanner Dewald, vice president of off-campus activities at Blinn College in College Station, addressed the students and said their legislatures know about the impact community colleges have on the state’s economy. “We are here to personalize that data. We are here to make it more than just about numbers,” Dewald said. Froylan Silva, financial aid adviser at Victoria College, said one-third of their students rely on some sort of financial aid. He said the budget cuts warrant many serious dilemmas for students. “Obviously, taxes have to be raised, and the tuition has to be raised. It affects not only the college but it reflects negatively on the community,” Silva said. Dustin Kinsey, a general studies major at Southwest Texas Junior College, said some students don’t have any options other than to attend a community college. “If they cut the budget at our school, half of our [students] can’t attend anymore because majority of them are on financial aid of some sort,” he said. John E. Roueche, director of the Community College Leadership Program at UT, said many community college leaders believe that the current budget cut being proposed penalizes the institutions unfairly, a contrast to a demand from the state to increase enrollment at community colleges. However, the budget cut will drastically impact the enrollment rate, requiring efforts from a variety of groups, he said. “Our own UT System is working diligently to increase the number of transfer students from community colleges to all the campuses in the UT system,” Roueche said.