By Wally Perez
Tuition comparisons between the Alamo Colleges and community colleges around Texas revealed that students could take classes online at the Dallas County Community College district for far less money than in person at the Alamo Colleges.
Deeper comparisons reveal larger enrollment sizes and tax bases in Dallas and Houston; both are important factors in the overall tuition rates at these colleges.
The latest enrollment numbers available, which go back to fall 2015, show a much larger student population at the other colleges compared with the Alamo Colleges.
Alamo Colleges had 59,910 enrolled students for fall 2015.
Ann Hatch, district director of media relations, provided Dallas’ enrollment numbers for fall 2015 to The Ranger: 72,765 students.
Hatch said colleges and universities use fall totals as benchmarks for comparison because spring enrollments are historically lower.
The Houston Community College District website lists its fall 2015 enrollment numbers at 69,293.
With about 12,000 more students attending Dallas and almost 10,000 more students at Houston, this leaves a significant difference in student population and revenue for the colleges.
Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said enrollment numbers might play a big part in tuition costs because of economies of scale, as fixed costs wouldn’t increase due to flat rates, but more students also equal more costs.
“Since most of our costs are instruction and student support costs that also increase when enrollment increases, the revenues from additional students cover the cost to add course sections, instructors, etc.”
Snyder said every community college is different and some have different abilities in how much they can tax.
Snyder said places like Dallas produce a lot more tax revenue because of the metropolitan area they’re in.
In addition, the property values in Dallas produce a ton of money for them, she said.
The effective tax rate at Dallas is $0.115187/$100, which means if a house is valued at $100,000, the tax on the house would be $115.18.
The 2016 property tax rates in Houston list the effective tax rate at $0.099000/$100, which means if a house is valued at $100,000, the tax on that house would be $99.
The effective tax rate at the Alamo Colleges is $0.141765/$100, which means a house valued at $100,000 would equal $141.76 in taxes.
The combined tax rate at Alamo Colleges is $0.149150/$100, which would bring the tax to $149.50 if the house is valued at $100,000.
Snyder said tuition isn’t raised often because the tax rate has produced more money because of property values going up in Bexar County.
Tax bases for the three colleges have Dallas on top with $212.3 billion, then Houston at $188.7 billion and Alamo Colleges with $123.6 billion.
This is a tax base difference of $88.6 billion between Dallas and the Alamo Colleges.
Snyder said large systems, such as Houston, have such a large tax base that they produce equal property tax revenues with a much lower tax rate.
Community colleges in Texas have property taxes to cover all maintenance and operations.
Snyder said by Texas law, the state was to provide funding for education so that tuition rates could stay low and provide the public good of education in open access institutions such as community colleges.
“The state has not prioritized education as high as other things they fund, and have slashed education funding over the years,” Snyder said,
In terms of budgets, Houston and the Alamo Colleges aren’t too far apart, but once again Dallas towers over both.
According to the Dallas website, the operating budget for Dallas is more than $559 million for 2015-16.
Houston’s website lists its operating budget for 2015-16 at $324.6 million and the Alamo College’s operating budget for 2015-16 is $328.3 million, according to the approved minute order from a board of trustees meeting July 12.
This leaves a difference of about $230.7 million between Dallas and both Houston and the Alamo Colleges.
Alamo Colleges’ board of trustees approved an operating budget of $359.2 million for 2016-17 during the board meeting in July.
Operating budgets allow the colleges and departments to begin ramping up operations for the upcoming semester.
The 2016-17 operating budget for the Alamo Colleges was built with certain assumptions in mind.
According to the approved minute order from July, some of the assumptions were enrollment growth, tuition increase, tax rate and compensation increases.
“The biggest impact to when we have to raise tuition is when our funding by the state decreases,” Snyder said. “Some years, when we’ve had state cuts, we were also able to avoid raising tuition as we had an unexpected windfall of property values going up, producing more tax revenues to fill that gap.”