Texas could meet workforce demands with $2.26 billion investment in community colleges, think tank argues

Companion bills in the Texas House and Senate each provide ‘$1.83 billion in formula funding allocated toward community colleges,’ potentially countering the trend of declining state funding.

The think tank Texas 2036 is using data and testimony to support a community college funding formula that would incentivize outcomes, affordability, and filling in-demand jobs.

A recent report shared suggestions that could help Texas spend a proposed $2.26 billion on community colleges. 

The think tank Texas 2036 is using data and testimony to support a funding formula that would incentivize outcomes, make college more affordable, and help fill in-demand jobs. The report, “Transformative changes at community colleges,” argues that this investment will yield returns. 

“Given workforce demands, more Texans will need to earn a credential beyond a high school diploma to meaningfully participate in our state’s economy and sustain themselves and their families,” the report reads. 

“Community colleges are uniquely positioned to meet the state’s growing demands for skilled labor through quick and affordable pathways to earn credentials and ultimately self-sustaining wages.”

Companion bills in the Texas House and Senate each provide “$1.83 billion in formula funding allocated toward community colleges,” Texas 2036 Policy Analyst Renzo Soto told Campus Reform

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The bills could counter the 40-year trend of declining state funding for community colleges depicted in Texas 2036’s report. Approximately 26 percent of colleges’ funding came from the state in 2020, compared to 68 percent in 1980.

A segment of the Texas workforce lacks the credentials and training that it needs, the report suggests, as “Texas ranks last among its 12 peer states in terms of degree attainment.”

“By 2036, 70% of Texas jobs will require education or training after high school, yet fewer than 30% of Texans earn a postsecondary credential within six years of graduating from high school,” the report continues. 

Texas is not alone in the “blue-collar crisis” identified by Campus Reform’s Gabrielle Etzel. Applications for jobs requiring vocational training decreased by 49% from 2020 to 2022, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the “massive shortage of skilled workers…creates issues for a variety of industries reliant on these skilled trade workers.”

Community colleges can provide much-needed training, and Soto told Campus Reform that “Texas’ central stated higher education goal is to have 60% of all working-age Texans graduate with some kind of postsecondary credential of value by 2030.”

“Despite enrollment decreases, community colleges still serve over 40% of the state’s higher education students,” he continued. 

Soto recently testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee to support recommendations from the Texas Commission on Community College Finance (TxCCCF). The state established TxCCCF in 2021, and its members spent a year examining “how [its] 50 community college districts can support the state’s workforce,” according to the opening letter from Senior Chairman Woody Hunt. 

“A bill to enact the recommendations is being drafted,” Soto told Campus Reform. “Should the TxCCCF recommendations be enacted by the legislature through legislation, the new funding formulas as laid out in the legislation will determine how the combined $2.26 billion will be allocated to each community college.”

Hunt and other TxCCCF members–who include state senators and representatives, community college presidents, and the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education–developed recommendations that they called “both aspirational and achievable.”

If adopted, the Texas legislature would allocate funding using “evidence-based incentives tied to students’ progress toward credentials,” according to the recommendations. 

[RELATED: State governments drop four-year degree requirements, follows trend]

Financial aid would also receive a boost, including increased funding for grants awarded to community college students and “targeted financial aid for dual credit.”  

Seed grants, according to the proposed funding model, would award “programs in high-demand fields to support community colleges in rapidly standing up or expanding programs to meet regional and state workforce needs.”

The idea of these programs is popular with Texans, and survey data shared by Soto and TxCCCF show that respondents want to see community colleges offer course programs relevant to the workforce. 

TxCCCF concluded its recommendations by noting that “every additional dollar Texas invests in [its] community colleges can translate into greater opportunities across the state and a higher performing workforce that will draw new investments and jobs.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.