Community college engagement and funding connections

In states where local tax dollars do not directly fund community colleges, schools are actively supporting their communities
By: | Issue: October, 2014
September 24, 2014

Supporting local economic and civic projects is a central part of the mission for community colleges that rely on voter approval for funding.

In Kansas, for example, voters elect the six members of their community college’s board of trustees, which levies taxes to pay for the school’s operating expenses. Residents, however, can challenge the board’s decisions and force a referendum on any tax increase.

“Our college has a responsibility to be transparent so that folks know how their tax money is being spent, and they know whether what they’re investing is being used effectively,” says Stephen Vacik, president of Colby Community College in Kansas.

In states where local tax dollars do not directly fund community colleges, however, the schools are still actively involved in supporting their communities.

John Cox, president of Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts, says that in his experience, the funding arrangement doesn’t change the school’s community engagement. He has been a college administrator in two states: Massachusetts, where funding is provided by the state, tuition and fees; and Maryland, where funding comes from the state, county and students.

“When I was in Maryland, there would be much direct outreach with the local government, because they were one of our funding agencies,” says Cox, a former vice president for finance, operations and government relations at Harford Community College in Maryland. “Here, we don’t have that, but we’re continually keeping our message out across the community.”

Texas has a three-way revenue stream for community colleges, coming from the state, local property taxes and tuition. The fact that community colleges receive public tax dollars creates an expectation that the schools account for how the money is used.

“For me, it’s a 24/7 telling-the-story experience,” says Thom Chesney, president of Brookhaven College, part of the Dallas Community College District. “It’s about being smart about being out there—not only as the president but also by putting the college out there in as many settings as we can to tell our story.”

One message that Brookhaven can tell is how the college’s operations pump millions of dollars into the local economy each year through employee income and student spending. An economic impact study in 2010 showed that the college infuses $29.5 million into its service area annually through sales tax receipts from employees and students, rents and mortgage payments, charitable giving and taxes to local government.

The additional income attributed to the accumulation of college credits and skills the college’s graduates bring to the workforce far surpasses that figure and is estimated to be $488.6 million a year.