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Texas Community Colleges See Sharp Declines In Enrollment, Especially Among Black & Latino Students

Glass front entrance of building on Collin College's Spring Creek campus with sidewalk sign asking people to wear a face mask.
Keren Carrión
Texas community college enrollment has dropped 9% overall during the pandemic. That drop is sharper among Black and Latino students.

Fewer students are enrolling at Texas community colleges since the start of the pandemic — and those declines are more pronounced among students of color.

“Enrollments on average are down nearly 9% right now. It’s worse for Black students. It’s worse for Hispanic students. It’s worse for students who are low income," State Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

The drop in community college enrollment is due, in part, to the shift in virtual learning. Limited broadband access in some areas of the state means that students in parts of Texas are unable to access coursework.

When Texas Tech Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell talked with the committee he cited media coverage that about one-third of the state doesn't have broadband access — that includes rural areas and urban deserts.

"Now that is a problem for education — public education, higher education,” Mitchell said.

A lack of access to higher education results in a widening skills gap, according to Keller. He told state lawmakers that on the one hand, big tech companies are helping create tens of thousands of good jobs in Texas.

In the last year, companies like Hewlett Packard, Tesla and Oracle have announced moves to Texas, with the expectation of creating numerous jobs for residents. But Keller said we're having more trouble supplying the workforces these companies are looking for.

“On the other hand, we’re seeing increasing distance between the kinds of skills and credentials that many of our displaced workers have, and the kinds of skills that these good jobs require,” he said.

Some lawmakers argue that these increased skills gaps are also a result of inequity in higher education — that Black, Latino and minority students are often overlooked by thesystem.

“I asked your predecessor, and his predecessor, and his predecessor, and at what point do we see systemic change, where we don’t see these drops in values," Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) told Keller.

The Senate Finance Committee plays a critical role in determining what funding state agencies, like the Texas Higher Education board, will receive for the next two years.

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Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.