Texas community colleges enroll 70 percent of all the state's freshmen, and a disproportionate share of minority, older, part-time and low-income students, compared with four-year universities. Despite the enormous growth in demand at those colleges -- 220,000 new students in just seven years, the equivalent of more than four UT-Austins -- the state's contribution to their operational revenue is half what it was in 1980, placing more financial burden on local taxing districts and students themselves.
"We've done what they have asked of us ... by increasing access and enrollments," said Steve Johnson with the Texas Association of Community Colleges. "The problem is, the state can't, or won't, pay for that growth."
Financial aid to low-income students is another cost Texas is passing on to Washington. Federal Pell grants are already the main source of aid for Texas community college students; as a percentage of that assistance, the state's own program -- which the Legislature cut last year -- pales beside those of California, New York and other large states.
"There's a distance between the rhetoric you hear and the spending," Baylor said. "We don't put our money where our mouth is."
In the mid-1990s, Texas was so eager for welfare reform that it enacted its own version before the federal government did, imposing tougher work requirements and time limits for public assistance benefits than Washington. The state's "work first" approach has never wavered: Get the jobless off the unemployment rolls and families off welfare as quickly as possible. Personal responsibility, not upward mobility, is the watchword.
Federal dollars support 90 percent of the Texas Workforce Commission's $1.1 billion budget, and some low-income job seekers can get specialized skills training through the federal Workforce Investment Act. The state reports that the training boosts job retention and nearly doubles average annual earnings over those who receive more basic services, such as resume writing help.
But 95 percent of the 463,000 Texans counted as being served by the Workforce Investment Act in 2011 were "self-service" only, meaning they received no staff assistance. Of those who did, half qualified as low-income, and only half of those -- 5,305 -- received any training, according to the commission.
A 2011 report by the Legislative Budget Board shows that as federal funding for workforce development programs has dropped, Texas has done little to fill the gap for the working poor. A Workforce Investment Act program providing child care, transportation and other support for low-income adults seeking job training or education serves 25 percent fewer people than it did in 2006. And the Self-Sufficiency Fund, which uses federal money to customize career development programs for parents on public assistance, has dwindled from $12 million annually to $1.2 million since its inception.
Last year the Legislature slashed funding for the state's flagship job training program, the Skills Development Fund, from $44 million to $22 million. Meanwhile, businesses everywhere are reducing their own training efforts, said UT's Duvic.
"Corporations complain they can't get qualified people, but they used to train them. Now they don't want to spend the money," he said. "It's shifting the burden of preparing people to the state."
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