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Two-year colleges will take a hit under budget proposals

By Matthew Waller, Scripps Texas Newspapers

AUSTIN — Texas community colleges can turn a bad economy into a good budget.

Good enrollment can mean better state funding for the community colleges, because state formulas reward more students in class, an advocate for Texas community colleges said.

"When the economy is down, enrollment is up," said Steven Johnson, spokesman for the Texas Association of Community Colleges.

Now, however, those numbers are declining from their highs during the recent recession, he said.

Community colleges could see less money coming from the state, even as four-year institutions are set to receive slightly more money, according to the latest budget proposals from the state Legislature.

Johnson said community colleges are viewed as a cheaper way to begin higher education or fast-track job training.

Needs could rise in the again-burgeoning oil fields in West Texas, or the mineral deposits of the Eagle Ford Shale, needs for pipe fitters and engineering technicians that community colleges can service.

Colleges such as Del Mar College in Corpus Christi face that dynamic given the Eagle Ford Shale, Johnson said.

"Only community colleges are in the position to meet those workforce demands quickly and therefore serve their communities," he said.

In the state's latest budget, however, community colleges and other two-year, higher education institutions are at the bottom of the funding list, despite the state still having billions available for spending.

The first drafts of state budgets over the next two years show a decrease in higher education funding.

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