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When Community College Trustees Respect the Voters

I have written about Austin Community College several times. There is a common theme in the pieces: community college trustees who listen to their community. It makes a major difference for both the community and the community college.

ACC caught my attention in 2021 because it withdrew a contract that would have allowed a private contractor to store construction equipment and set up a batch plant for cement making on ACC property. It also caught my attention in 2020 when it announced that it would switch two of its campuses to solar and wind energy.

Finally, it caught my attention when, this year, it asked the voters in its district for an eye-popping $770M bond issue (and won).
In 2021 the Trustees signed a contract with a local construction firm working on a highway project in front of one of ACC’s campuses. The local residents were fine with storing construction equipment at the vacant facilities. They were not happy with batch plant for cement-making. They made their displeasure known, and the Trustees acted on the residents’ objections. At the time, one ACC Trustee acknowledged that the school was planning a bond issue, and they needed the residents’ approval for that.

Well, in 2022, ACC asked the Austin voters for tax money – a lot of tax money – and the residents approved it. ACC wanted nearly a billion dollars to rebuild certain campuses, build a new manufacturing campus, open new buildings, replace the vacant Pinnacle campus, and shore up student programs. The voters signed on the dotted line because they know they have a Board of Trustees that pays attention to the concerns of their voters.

Community college trustees should look out for the community

One of the things ACC did to prepare strategically for the bond request was to look carefully at the kinds of jobs Austin employers were hiring for. ACC hired a data analysis firm to examine and analyze tens of thousands of job openings in Austin between January and June of this year. The community college then mapped that data to its current programs to see how well they lined up with what the community needs.

ACC wasn’t interested in just any job listing, however. They didn’t want to perpetuate low-wage jobs, and they wanted to know about jobs their graduates could reasonably obtain. ACC wanted to better understand the need for workers in high-demand, high-income jobs. They wanted to create opportunities for their students to occupy jobs that pay well. So, they’re focusing the proceeds of the bond issue on advanced manufacturing, information technology, and healthcare degrees instead of sifting their course catalog for “new” certificate programs.. Because ACC is responsive to the needs and desires of all community members, the average ACC graduate increases his or her salary by 45%-65% in the five years following graduation.

It’s amazing what a community college can do when its Board of Trustees truly listens to and respects the concerns of the people who elected them.

Photo Credit: ACC District, via Flickr