The trickle down effects of an enormous state budget deficit are hitting South Plains College in Levelland particularly hard. Not only is the college being asked to slash its spending, it also faces the possibility of having to cut employee health insurance benefits.
South Plains College President Gary McDaniel says it's clear to him the Governor doesn't consider community colleges in Texas a priority. McDaniel says that's concerning because community colleges account for 50% of all students enrolled in higher education in Texas, and 78% of all minority students in higher education.
Governor Perry's proposal asks every state agency to cut its budget by 7% for the current year. In addition, the governor has proposed slashing college appropriations by even more next year, up to 9%. He also proposes not funding colleges for any enrollment growth they've experienced in the past two years.
Those three things have been widely publicized, but the most devastating proposal in Dr. McDaniel's estimation is a new one that singles out community colleges. A proposed 65% cut to state-funded health care insurance for community college employees. "We're willing to do our share. But when they start putting the added burden on us and singling us out for health insurance, that's very unfair," says Dr. McDaniel.
"How can we expect to keep quality people if we're not able to provide health insurance?," says Associate Dean of College Relations Dane Dewbre.
SPC says the cuts would cripple community colleges and force them to take drastic measures. Leaving them with no options but to cut services, increase local taxes and raise tuition. A scary thought for a college that prides itself on being an educational bargain. About 1/3 the cost of Texas Tech.
"It's already hard enough to work and go to school, and raising tuition just makes it harder for students to stay involved and want to be here," says freshman Adam Howard.
Some of the budget restraints are already being felt. In Ms. Bryant's English class, in order to save on paper and printing costs, students are given a website address so they can print out handouts for themselves at home. The uncertainty is not sitting well in Levelland. "The last thing we want to do is stand out there at the front door and say, 'sorry, our classes are full, you can't enroll at SPC," says Dr. McDaniel.
Community colleges like South Plains are now asking all faculty and staff to write state lawmakers, hoping to reform some of the governor's proposals before they make it on the books.