AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Students and leaders from the Austin Community College District head to the Capitol Wednesday to lobby lawmakers to increase funding for community colleges and expand access to dual-credit courses for high school students.
The statewide push aims to put issues facing community colleges in front of the legislators who can make changes to higher education in Texas.
Among the schools' priorities is an 8 percent increase in state funding, equating to about $144 million for all community colleges in the state. That money is one reason colleges can offer classes much more cheaply than state institutions.
"I have more opportunities to take classes that I thought I wouldn’t be interested in and get an opportunity to explore new things," said Lauren Wallace, an ACC student and communications director for the Student Government Association.
She'll be at the capitol with others in the association Wednesday to show lawmakers what those state dollars really mean for students like her. She plans to transfer to a four-year school after this semester, and without her experience at ACC, she might not be on the same path.
"In high school, I never thought that I would be interested in government," Wallace said, "and that’s my major right now."
Community colleges will also lobby for more access to dual credit classes for high-schoolers. In ACC's tax district, those courses are free for students, meaning they can earn college credit while still in high school.
The classes are "extremely popular" in Austin ISD, and demand is only growing, said Dr. Craig Shapiro, the district's associate superintendent of high schools.
AISD offers enough classes for students to complete a full associate's degree before graduation, he added, at a cost to the district of $275,000. "Whatever ACC offers their students, we also offer our high school students," Shapiro said.
Students can save a lot of money taking those courses before going to college. AISD supports community colleges' efforts to expand access to dual credit courses and Shapiro said they could offer more to their students with more financial support.
"It would be critical for the state to continue to contribute and expand the contributions for these types of programs so that we can give more kids access to having these experiences before they graduate high school," Shapiro said.
ACC and other schools are also asking lawmakers to expand access to career and technical education (CTE) and continuing education (CE) classes. The former typically refers to blue-collar job training, and the latter generally apply to workers who want to improve their skillset in their current careers or build a foundation for a new career.
All the changes the community colleges are advocating factor into the state's plan to improve educational outcomes for students. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board came up with the 60X30TX plan in 2015, a strategy to increase the number of young Texans with degrees or certificates to 60 percent by 2030.
In the latest progress report, published last summer, the board noted an increase of 2 percentage points over the first two years of the program, bringing the number of Texans ages 25-34 with degrees or certificates to 42.3 percent.
If the trend continues at that pace, the state will barely miss its goal 12 years from now.