Despite years of increasing pressure to tap local sources of revenue for its financing, Howard College tuition fees remain competitive compared to other community colleges in this area.
A Texas Association of Community College survey of tuition fees charged by West Texas junior colleges for the Spring 2013 semester shows Howard to be near the bottom of the scale, at least where in-district and in-state students are concerned.
For students living within the junior college district, HC charges tuition of $78 per semester hour. In comparison, Midland College charges $72 per semester hour, while Clarendon College tops the list at $91.
For students whose home is outside the district, Howard charges $113 per semester hour. Of the colleges surveyed, Cisco College had the smallest tuition rate for out-of-district students at $99 per semester hour, while Vernon College topped the list at $128.
When it comes to students who come from outside of Texas, however, Howard is the second most expensive community college in this area, charging tuition fees of $164 per semester hour, trailing only Vernon at $198. The cheapest area community college for out-of-state students is South Plains in Levelland, which charges $121 per semester hour.
State-wide, community colleges charge an average of $76 per hour for in-district students, $118 for out-of-district students and $173 for out-of-state students, according to information released by TACC.
Howard President Dr. Cheryl Sparks said the college has managed to remain competitive with its tuition fees despite years of decreased state aid to two-year institutions.
Information from TACC reveals that state aid to community colleges, as a percentage of the institutions' total budget, has shrunk from a high of 68 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2010. Tuition fees, meanwhile, have increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 32 percent in 2010, while the portion of a college's budget paid for by local taxes has increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 39 percent in 2010.
“And that was before the sizable decrease in state funding during the (2010) session of the Texas Legislature,” Sparks said. “So the discrepancy is even greater now.”
At Howard, the percentage of its budget financed by state money shrunk from a high of 59 percent in 1992 to 40 percent in 2012. In that same time span, the percentage of the budget paid for by tuition and other fees has grown from 17 percent to 38 percent, while the percentage paid for by local taxes has dropped from 25 percent to 21 percent.
That information, Sparks said, has to come with a bit of a disclaimer.
“You have to realize that our student population has shifted over the years,” she said. “In 1992, we didn't have as many out-of-state students as we do now. Another reason for the increase in tuition percentages is that we've had a significant increase in the number of students at our San Angelo campus.”
And those figures don't include tuition for dual-credit enrollees — high school students who also take college courses. Howard charges in-district high school students $164 per every three-hour course they take. Outside the district, that rate increased to $250 for every three-hour course.
Dual-credit students comprise almost 25 percent of the district's total enrollment, Sparks estimated.
During the past 10 years, Howard has increased its tuition rates four times, most recently in 2011. Despite that, Sparks said hiking tuition is a measure of last resort for college officials when they craft the district's yearly budget.
“What we try to do is, when we're looking at tuition and fees, we consider other possible solutions first,” she said. “Tuition and fees is a revenue source, but it's not our first option.”
And Sparks vowed the college would continue that policy in the future.
“We'll always strive to remain competitive in that area,” she said. “The most important thing we try to keep in mind when determining tuition and fees is keeping them as low as possible to benefit our students.”