EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mercury has invited both advocates and opponents of San Marcos CISD’s annexation into the Austin Community College taxing district to write commentary in support of their views ahead of the Nov. 2 ballot measure. This is the first in a series by members of San Marcos ACCess, the local citizen’s committee that petitioned for the measure to appear on the ballot. For an opposing viewpoint, see Lamar Hankin’s column here.
COMMENTARY by ALBERT SIERRA
Being in one of the fastest growing corridors of the nation, San Marcos is poised to grow significantly in the near future. In order to meet the challenges of managing this growth — to expand our tax base and attract good-paying jobs, we need more affordable and accessible higher education for our citizens.
The San Marcos ACCess committee was formed to accomplish this goal — to bring a full-service Austin Community College Campus, lower tuition and more workforce training to our region. At $9.46 a month for the average homeowner or 79 cents a month for the average over-65 or disabled homeowner, ACC is a bargain.
We’ll get a full service campus right here and our residents will pay lower tuition: ACC students from SMCISD currently pay $450 in tuition for a 3-credit hour course while in-district students pay $126 in tuition for the same course.
The San Marcos area is meeting the challenges of economic development in these difficult financial times through an initiative called Partners in Progress that has brought together local city, county and school districts, as well as area chambers, economic development groups, Texas State University, Central Texas Medical Center, Gary Job Corps, as well as local businesses, non profits, and manufacturers to help develop a strategic plan.
We have most of the elements of a healthy, vibrant, prosperous community. We are home to Texas State University. We have the San Marcos River and its habitat. Our retail infrastructure, home of the San Marcos outlet malls and now the San Marcos Conference Center and Embassy Suites, is the envy of the corridor and even the state. We have a strong manufacturing base that provides good wages with benefits to hundreds of our residents.
But what we don’t have, and what all the partners agree that we need, is education that is better suited to the needs of our citizens and future workplaces. The local presence of a community college is vital to our region’s long-term economic benefits.
The San Marcos City Council agrees. The mayor and every council member voted “yes” to a resolution supporting annexation into the ACC district. Texas State’s Associated Student Government agrees, passing a similar resolution.
The gap in educational services between high school and four-year university levels is draining our pool of skilled labor. Without local access to a community college, workers are at an extraordinary disadvantage to improve skills and increase their income.
We recognize the need for affordable, accessible education for our citizens. Education that can offer one-year certificates in good-paying fields. Education that is affordable, right here at home, for citizens who cannot afford state tuitions and have transportation difficulties. Education that can support our residents seeking improvement in their workplace skills to get ahead. Education offered by Austin Community College, as our partner.
The fact is that we have some of the lowest educational attainment rates in the corridor and our per-capital income lags considerably compared to the rest of Hays County and the corridor. Our citizens deserve the equity of lower tuition and a full-service campus right in our community. More of our residents must complete higher education in order to prosper.
Would we like to have an ACC campus and lower tuition without paying more? Would we like to have guaranteed representation on the ACC board of directors? Sure! But the return on our investment will pay off in the short-term and long-term. Small communities like Leander and Round Rock have elected their citizens to the ACC board—so can we!
With open enrollment, a track record of well-prepared transfer students, and a history of responding to industry and workforce training requirements, ACC in San Marcos will make higher education and good-paying jobs a reality for many.
Vote “yes” on November 2 to bring lower tuition and a community college campus to San Marcos
ALBERT SIERRA is executive director of the San Marcos Housing Authority and a co-chair of the San Marcos ACCess, a group that supports Austin Community College District annexation of property in San Marcos CISD.