Aspen Prize, budget cuts, memorial bench, program futures among discussion topics.
By Austin P. Taylor
President Robert Vela told about 40 students at Pizza with the President Oct. 18 that the college budget was cut this year because of a drop in enrollment.
“We have the biggest budget in the Alamo Colleges district,” Vela said at the event sponsored the Student Government Association in the nursing complex. “Over the last four years, San Antonio College has been experiencing a drop in enrollment every year.”
Vela responded to a question asked by business administration sophomore Bobbi Balfour about budget cuts and the cost and location of the memorial bench.
Vela said while enrollment did increase this year, the college hasn’t seen growth that would allow for increased funds.
“It’s not that anybody’s doing anything wrong,” Vela said. “It’s just that students are living.”
Eighty percent of students at this college are part-time students. Vela said day-to-day responsibilities of these students are keeping them from taking more classes.
Vela said funds for the memorial bench, installed west of Fletcher Administration Center, were taken from the budget of the previous fiscal year before the budget cuts went into effect.
“When this project came to us, and it came to us from your Student Government Association … when you see their tears in their eyes, there’s this obligation we have to not just do something ‘just to do it,’” Vela said.
Vela said local artist Luis L. Lopez was commissioned to create the bench because it is important to support businesses within the community around the college.
Vela then asked Harley Williams, former SGA president, to comment.
“You can’t put a price on it, because the bench is for any student, faculty or staff who have passed away,” Williams said.
Williams said the SGA surveyed 60 students prior to choosing the design. The survey asked students what “would make a memorial that was unique to this college?” The results were in favor of a bench.
Vela said the memorial bench is in a visible area to ensure students know about it.
A plaque to explain the purpose of the bench will be made, and a fence will be installed to hide from view generators behind the bench.
“We have other little pockets we could put the bench in, but students would probably have a hard time finding them,” Vela said. “At least here it’s in the mall area. People can see it and they can gravitate to it.”
Because of budget cuts, every department lost 25 percent of its operating budget.
Students concerned about how these budget cuts have affected smaller programs asked Vela how smaller programs can stay afloat.
“Part of that issue is keeping taxes low, keeping tuition low, while the state continues to cut and cut and cut every year,” Vela said.
Vela said that smaller programs need to have an “entrepreneurial spirit.”
“It’s not just about teaching the skill,” Vela said. “It’s also about teaching ‘how do I take this skill and market it so I can be marketable in this community?’”
Vela said smaller programs will thrive once they have aligned what they teach to the current market.
“We need to continuously challenge our faculty to think outside the box,” Vela said. “These fields should not go away, but they should be open to transform themselves to be relevant and to be cutting edge.”
The college executive team, consisting of three vice presidents and three deans, was also at the event.
Vela opened the event by announcing this college’s nomination for the the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
This college is among the 150 community colleges eligible for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
The Aspen Institute is a nationwide policy and educational studies organization based in Washington, D.C.
The Aspen Prize is awarded to colleges with recognized excellence in the areas of learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings and levels of access and success for minorities and low-income students.
The Aspen prize is awarded once every two years. The winning school receives a $1 million prize.
“In the history of SAC, we’ve never been invited to be a part of this 150,” Vela said. “We are one of 150 who were selected out of 1,400 colleges in this country.”
Palo Alto, Northwest Vista, and St. Philip’s colleges were also nominated for the Aspen prize.
Northeast Lakeview College did not qualify because it is not fully accredited.
“The next phase is to be selected into the Top 10,” Vela said.
Should this college win the Aspen Prize, Vela said there would be ample ways to spend the money for the betterment of the college.