Affordable tuition rates at Austin Community College and other state community colleges are in jeopardy after the filing of a property tax reform bill by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.
Under Senate Bill 2, voter approval would be required before a taxing unit can increase its annual property tax revenue by more than 2.5 percent from the previous year. Neil Vickers, ACC’s vice president of finance and administration, said this cap could result in increased tuition at ACC, which hasn’t changed in more than five years.
“The property tax revenues here are very important,” Vickers said. “In fact, it’s our largest revenue stream by far. Anything that impacts that negatively, whether it would be a change in the economy or, in this case, some type of change in legislation, will have a significant impact on how the college funds its programs.”
Vickers said this will be a statewide problem for community colleges but will be exacerbated at urban community colleges, such as ACC, because they are more reliant on growing property values. In the past five years, Vickers said Austin has exceeded 2.5 percent increases in property tax revenue each year.
“At this point in time, property taxes make up about 60 percent of our operating revenues, and we use that to maintain fairly low tuition rates,” Vickers said.
Vickers said ACC would have received $9 million less in 2018 if the bill had been in effect. Taken at face value, Vickers said this difference in revenue is worth an extra $12 per credit hour, or approximately $300 extra per year for a full-time student.
“That’s not just a one-time (increase),” Vickers said. “You have that same (2.5 percent) cap every year … so, it changes the way that we fund the college long-term and how we look at our revenue streams. We would absolutely be talking about having to have regular tuition increases.”
Bettencourt, who authored the property tax reform bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
Vickers said tuition hikes have implications for UT students, too. UT has a significant number of students coenrolled in ACC classes, Vickers said, and tuition increases would affect them as well.
“There’s going to be impact, and there’s just no way around it,” Vickers said. “It’s too large of a revenue stream for us for there not to be. But the college will turn over every stone to minimize the impacts for both the service levels and cost of tuition.”
ACC sophomore Cyrus Bogard is preparing to transfer into UT. Bogard said paying more tuition at ACC would lead him to make some financial sacrifices, but it wouldn’t hinder his plans to attend the University.
“UT’s tuition already costs a good deal more,” Bogard said. “(ACC) raising tuition wouldn’t deter me, but it would be an inconvenience.”
Dance sophomore Andreina Hurtado said she takes core classes at Lone Star Community in Houston. Hurtado said she pays for some of her classes, so increased tuition at other community colleges would negatively affect her.
“I would potentially have to take out more loans or work more, which would just make me more tired and less focused on my dance degree,” Hurtado said.