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Friday, January 31, 2014

BULLETIN: The "Real" State of the College - By Carroll G. Robinson, Trustee, District IV for the (HCC) Houston Community College System


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The “Real” State of the College
By Carroll G. Robinson, Trustee, District IV

On Friday, January 31, 2014, the Acting Chancellor of the Houston Community College System (HCC) will report on the “State of the College”.

Declining

Unfortunately, the “State” of HCC is declining and the System needs stronger oversight from the Board of Trustees and greater accountability from the administration.

Before I was elected to the Board of Trustees and since I joined the Board in January 2012, a majority of the Board has been unwilling – and has failed – to hold the administration of the System fully accountable to prevent mismanagement, wasteful and unnecessary spending.

Unacceptable

A majority of the Board and the administration have spent millions of dollars in taxpayer money without awarding a contract or using data to measure performance and evaluate results. This should be unacceptable to all of us.

Return on Investment (ROI) has not been a part of the budgeting process at HCC. It’s been a non-existent concept for the administration and not enough Trustees have been willing to require it. The culture at HCC needs to be changed.

Oversight and Accountability

During my two years on the Board of Trustees, I have offered numerous proposals for improving and increasing the finances and fiscal accountability of HCC. They have almost all been blocked, ignored or rejected.

During my first year on the Board, a majority of the Board and administration refused to adopt a policy that would require all HCC contracts be reviewed by the System’s lawyers. I proposed this policy after I found out that the System’s contract with Qatar and the contract the former Chancellor gave her Deputy Chancellor had never been reviewed by any lawyer before they were signed.

That first year, I also supported establishing campaign contribution limits at HCC like those now in place at the City. That policy proposal was also opposed by a majority of the Board. Campaign contribution limits at HCC still needs to happen.

Last year, I offered a policy proposal that would have required contracts be suspended if there were any allegations of impropriety related to a specific contract until such time as a full and fair investigation could be completed.

That proposal was never placed before the Board for our consideration. The then Chairman of the Board refused to do so. This policy also needs to be adopted.

Part of the fiduciary duty of the Board of Trustees is to establish policies to protect the taxpayers’ money.

Student Success Needs Work

HCC has no real Strategic Business Plan that ties spending to outcome based metrics in the areas of student Enrollment, Retention and Increasing the System’s Graduation Rate and Workforce Certificates Awarded – Student Success.

Declining Enrollment

HCC’s enrollment is declining. Raising the tuition rate and fees will only make a college education and workforce training more expensive and less affordable for more Houstonians. HCC is Our Community College. Its focus should be educating people in Our Community; not building community colleges in foreign countries while HCC, in Houston, is declining and hundreds of thousands of people in Our Community need it to be working, affordable and effective.

Finances

The administration is now reporting that HCC has a multi-million dollar budget deficit that is only going to get worse in the coming years. Their only recommended solutions are raising the System’s property tax rate and increasing tuition and fees.

I will not support raising tuition and fees or increasing the HCC property tax rate. Neither needs to be done to fix HCC’s budget problems.

We Can Fix Things

HCC can increase its enrollment and fix its financial problems. To do that, HCC must:

 Implement a total Hiring freeze and conduct a comprehensive staffing analysis to determine how many employees the System really needs. This will also require establishing an optimum enrollment goal for the System. Doing so will help determine how many faculty and staff members the System really needs.

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Subject the entire System to a Lean Six Sigma evaluation and a comprehensive performance and operations audit.

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Improve, Streamline and Modernize its Enrollment, Financial Aid and Scholarship processes and systems to make them more user-friendly and easier for students to enroll. They must also all work better together.

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Convert existing advertising dollars into Scholarship Funds and go directly into all high schools – public, private and charter – in the HCC Service Area and offer students “last dollar” scholarships to fill the gap between financial aid and need to cover the full cost of tuition, fees and books. Doing this one simple thing would help increase enrollment and retention rates.

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Increase the number of state and federal Grants and Contracts awarded to the System. Grants and Contracts are an additional source of operating revenue. Unfortunately, HCC has failed to maximize this source of revenue. This problem must be fixed and will require better coordination with the Harris County Congressional and Legislative delegations. For months, I have been offering ideas for improving revenue generation in this area and they have yet to be utilized.

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Increase Investment Income by separating the Fund Balance form cash flow need and invest it in investments that will generate a minimum 2.5% return annually. Tripling HCC’s current rate of return on its investments would generate several extra million dollars in operating income annually.

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Increase Enterprise Revenue. The current HCC central administration building at 3100 Main Street in Midtown generates millions of dollars annually in lease payments from private sector tenants. HCC should use public/private partnerships to build a second building and parking garage on Main Street; Student Housing with retail space and a parking garage on the Central Campus; and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects at the Northline Campus and on property owned by the System in the North Forest area of Northeast Houston and at 288 @ North MacGregor. These projects could be up and running over the next twelve to twenty-four months and could generate $15 to $20 million dollars in net new revenue annually.

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Sell the small pieces of Surplus Property owned by the System that are too small to build on. Though small, those pieces of property will generate several million dollars in new revenue for HCC.

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Build and operate the Coleman College and North Forest Early College High Schools as Charter Schools. This would allow HCC to help improve students’ college readiness while generating additional new revenue for HCC.

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Participate in all ERCOT-Electricity Reliability Council of Texas – and Texas General Land Office (GLO)Energy Demand Response Programs. Doing so will help the System save hundreds of thousands of dollars on its electric bill while generating new revenue.

This Year

HCC can no longer keep doing the same old things and expecting a different result.

This year, the Board of Trustees must begin holding the administration fully accountable based on performance data and outcomes.

It’s no longer good enough for a majority of the Board of Trustees to be a Rubber Stamp for the administration. The Board should not allow outside groups and individuals to dictate what happens at HCC. Allowing this to continue to happen is not in the best interest of the System, our students or the taxpayers.

It is the fiduciary duty of the Board of Trustees to protect taxpayer money while ensuring that the residents of our community have access to a quality, affordable college education and workforce training.

Proper Board oversight is the foundation for making the State of the College – HCC – Stronger.

This is what is needed to ensure that everyone in Our Community has An Opportunity To Do Better.

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*Carroll G. Robinson is a former At‐Large Houston City Council Member. He is an Associate Professor at Texas Southern University, a Citizen Member of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund and served on the Advisory Board of K9s4COPS. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the National League of Cities and the Houston--‐Galveston Area Council (H-GAC).

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