The scene from the front steps of the State Capitol building is elegantly ornate- a lush, green lawn rolling in front of a beautiful historic building. However, I don’t remember much about the scenery. I remember voices.
On Thursday, February 22, 2007, along with other community college students from across the State of Texas, I traveled to Austin. We were there to let our voices be heard.
As I considered the thousands of my fellow citizens, and how many each of their voices potentially represent, the gravity of our cause became more real to me than it was when I stepped onto the bus that morning.
Is our congress up to the task of making college education financially accessible?
If you ever want to see Senators and House Representatives get nervous, surround them with 1600 concerned college students. It was humorous to visit some of the offices and see various signs on their office doors; “Out To Lunch”, or “In A Meeting.” Some of them didn’t even have a sign, just lights turned off, doors locked. I even wondered if one or two might be inside utilizing their desks for shelter. I can’t say I would have blamed them. We did charge up the hill with a multitude of ideas and questions. Answers were in short supply.
Community college is a marketplace of ideas and at this time, a community faced with difficulties. Charming as a hand shake and a photo with a Senator may be, Montgomery College went to Austin to share our concerns, and when the time came we did not hesitate to do so.
Our college, like many others across the state, is facing many challenges. Space has become an increasing problem. Currently, Montgomery College is nearly at capacity enrollment. Parking space is severely lacking. Don’t arrive late to class; you may not have a seat when you get there.
Even more pressing are the many financial issues. In some cases, textbooks are more costly than tuition. The majority of funding the college receives comes from rising tuition and property taxes. At this point, it is difficult to ask the community to bear any additional burden. These resources are rapidly depleting.
Austin, the ball is in your court.
What it all boils down to is this: if community college isn’t an affordable avenue of education, the citizens of this state will find themselves deprived of the opportunity to expand our horizons. These are some of the issues discussed in the meetings with the representatives; those who were willing to speak with us.
Although most students go through community college like a two year revolving door, the impact Montgomery College had in Austin is significant long term. These students will likely be gone by the time the fruit of their labor is seen. Their mission is to secure a sturdy foundation for the future of community college in Texas.
In our society, where higher learning is not only a privilege, but increasingly a necessity, it would be a tragic day when we turn people away from pursuing that education. We can’t know for sure the impact we had on Austin that Thursday, but we did what we went there to do. Our cause is a noble one.
As the Senate and House of Representatives continue to go about their work, they may not remember our faces, but it is my personal hope that they remember our voice. After all, it was never about the scenery.