VC president responds to proposed State budget cuts

As the State of Texas faces its largest budget shortfall since the early 1940s, the Legislature has responded by proposing multi-billion-dollar cuts to education at all levels. Locally this would mean cutting millions of dollars in State funding from Victoria College’s budget.

Dr. Tom Butler, president of Victoria College, recently traveled to Austin to testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education in an effort to convince legislators that the proposed cuts would have a profoundly negative impact on VC, its students and the entire Golden Crescent region. Butler joined a gathering of over 40 other community college presidents from across the state for the day-long hearing at the Capitol.

“As our community struggles with the challenges of the overall national economy, many local residents have seen that the smart thing to do is return to college to increase their competitive edge by learning new skills and increasing their education,” said Butler. “VC has stepped up to this challenge by serving more students, developing new programs, and working with our local economic development offices to bring new employers to the area.”

“Budget cuts of this magnitude at this time will seriously affect our ability to meet the training and education needs of the Crossroads,” added Butler.

According to Butler, VC has already dealt with State cuts of almost $1 million in the current year, creating a very lean budget.

“The size of the additional cuts facing VC is just over $2 million per year,” said Butler, “which represents a substantial reduction in our operating budget. From one funding period to the next we have seen a 29% drop in state support.”

Victoria College has three possible cost-saving strategies available to cover the proposed cuts: increase the ad valorem tax rate, raise students’ tuition, or reduce operating costs further.

“Just to put things in perspective, in order to make up a $2 million loss, the tax rate would have to increase by 27%, from 15.31 to 19.31 cents per $100 valuation, or tuition would have to increase 72%, from $34 to $58.50 per student credit hour,”  according to Butler.  “The repercussion of such an increase in costs to students is difficult to estimate, but it is safe to conclude that a significant number of students would no longer be able to afford to attend VC.”

The third possibility involves further cuts to VC’s operating budget. Because VC has already cut its budget severely, achieving a $2 million cost savings would require the elimination of higher paying positions in the administrative, faculty and professional staff categories.

“We estimate that as many as 33 faculty, administrative and/or professional staff positions would be lost, and our ability to serve students would be seriously compromised,” said Butler. “As many as 400 fewer full-time students would be served.”

“Victoria College has tightened its belt over the last four years,” said VC Board of Trustees President Ron Walker. “The cut in State funding to VC as is being proposed in Austin now will have an adverse affect not only to the students at Victoria College but the community as a whole.

“All of the services provided by Victoria College will be adversely affected by the underfunding of the State,” added Walker.

“As our legislators address this huge budget shortfall it is important that we not only look to solving today’s financial problems, but that we also make the right choices about where we take the cuts,” said Butler. “The worst possible case would be to come out of the recession undereducated, undertrained, and unable to compete, nationally or internationally.”

“It makes little sense to me for an institution and service that helps produce a skilled workforce and educated population, which result in economic and job growth, are being cut at the very time when economic growth in our area and throughout the state should be a top priority,” said Walker. “Funding which will help our area and state prosper should not be receiving more devastating cuts.”

 “The good news is that we do have time to work with the Legislature with the hope that budget cuts for community college education can be taken to a more manageable level,” added Butler.

To that end, Butler said it will be critical in the coming months to mobilize local business, industry and the community to help plead the case for VC.

“We need to gather our forces and really show our Legislature what a tremendous impact VC has in this community so that they understand that they cannot afford to make these kinds of cuts,” said Butler.

Published: Friday, 25 February 2011

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