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85th Legislative Session all about building relationships for Blinn College

Blinn maintains normal operations for crucial services such as the Star of the Republic Museum and Small Business Development Center

June 19, 2017

In an 85th Legislative Session with a variety of crucial issues, nothing was more important to Blinn College’s long-term future than the strong bonds forged both before and during the session.

In advance of the session, Blinn hosted its first Legislative Luncheon in November, hosting more than 70 state legislators, elected officials, and community leaders. The College also hosted Texas Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger for a tour of the Brenham and Bryan campuses, the Health Science Center, and Bryan Collegiate High School.

Blinn students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni also made regular trips to Austin, participating in the first Blinn College Day, as well as Texas Community College Day, Brazos County Day, and Washington County Day at the Capitol.

“Blinn College’s greatest legislative success during the past year has been in building partnerships and friendships, not only with legislators and their staffs, but with community leaders and others who look forward to forging a bright future for the community we serve,” said Mel Waxler, Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “Those relationships will be the foundation for all we do in partnership with state legislators to ensure that we continue to provide affordable educational excellence for students across our service area and the state.”

In advance of the Legislative Session, Blinn’s Board of Trustees identified seven legislative priorities:

  1. Blinn College supports the state funding goals for community colleges as adopted by the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) and Community College Association of Texas Trustees (CCATT).
  2. Blinn College supports enhanced policies, programs, and associated funding to strengthen the workforce development services and initiatives as adopted by TACC and CCATT.
  3. Blinn College supports an increase in state funding to further Blinn’s efforts to provide an affordable higher education for all students.
  4. Blinn College is committed to strengthening its business and industry partnerships and to enhancing workforce development in all of its service area.
  5. Blinn College supports additional state funding to offset the rising expenses associated with Hazlewood exemptions.
  6. Blinn College supports maintenance of the existing level of state funding for the operation of the Star of the Republic Museum.
  7. Blinn College supports maintenance of the existing level of state funding for the operation of the Blinn College Small Business Development Center.

Texas community colleges received $1.764 billion in state funding for the 2018-19 biennium, an increase of $19 million over the previous biennium. Blinn will receive $23.62 million in total state funding in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, including an additional $180,406 in core funding and $247,392 in additional student success funding.

Funding for Blinn College’s Star of the Republic Museum decreased by less than $40,000 compared to the previous Legislative Session, but remains funded at a higher level than it was during the 83rd Legislature. Each year, the museum educates approximately 30,000 visitors, including more than 6,500 area school children. The Star of the Republic Museum is the only American Alliance of Museums accredited museum in the state and the only museum created by the Legislature devoted exclusively to collecting and preserving the material culture of the Texas Republic.

Blinn’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) also will continue normal operations after securing funding during the Legislative Session. While the Texas Gulf Coast SBDC Network saw reduced funding, the Blinn SBDC has been advised that it should not expect to see a reduction due to the network’s policy of matching the financial support of Blinn College, and the Blinn SBDC’s long history of exceptional performance.

The Blinn College SBDC, which serves Austin, Colorado, and Washington counties, creates approximately 80 new jobs each year, including approximately 100 in 2016. On average, the Blinn SBDC helps clients obtain approximately $5.5 million in capital, creates 18 new businesses, and works with approximately 90 local businesses each year.

Blinn also sought additional state support for the Hazlewood Act, a State of Texas benefit that provides qualified veterans, spouses, and dependent children with an educational benefit of up to 150 credit hours of tuition exemption at public institutions of higher education. In Fiscal Year 2016, Blinn distributed more than $1.5 million in Hazlewood exemptions, up from $617,598 in Fiscal Year 2012. The Legislature took no action to reimburse higher education institutions such as Blinn for the costs associated with the exemptions the state mandates.

In regard to workforce training, the Legislature passed House Bill 108, which will allow the use of Skills Development Funds to support employers expanding into or relocating their operations into Texas. Previously, companies had to show that they had an established payroll in Texas.

House Bill 2994 allows colleges to count workforce continuing education credit hours for students who have completed their sophomore year of high school toward the state funding formula. Previously, students had to be 18 years of age or older. This change strengthens the long-term financial viability of Blinn’s workforce training programs offered in partnership with local ISDs and may allow Blinn to expand such offerings in Brazos County and the Hodde Center.

Senate Bill 22 establishes an advisory committee to develop an open-enrollment Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) Program for high school students who wish to participate in work-based education programs. Grants totaling $5 million will be available through August 1, 2019, and Blinn already has begun discussions with Bryan ISD regarding a possible computer networking P-TECH program.

For more information regarding Blinn College and the 85th Legislative Session, visit www.blinn.edu/gov_public/legislative_matters.html.