Members of the Community College Student Advisory Council (SAC) recently attended TribFest in Austin. Each year, the nonprofit news organization The Texas Tribune puts on the festival, which includes a series of discussions centered on public policy issues in Texas. The Commit Partnership helped sponsor the community college panel, and Ed Trust made sure students had the opportunity to attend and participate.

As the largest sector of higher education in Texas, serving the diversity of our state, community college was a significant topic of conversation throughout the festival – primarily as the state works toward maximizing its workforce potential.. Several panels focused on higher education highlighted the Texas Commission on Community College Finance’s recent draft recommendations to the Legislature for the upcoming session.

Student Advisory Council member Ángel García Donjuán asked, “How do you, as leaders in higher education and/or members of the commission, plan to engage student advocates in your work?”

One of the panels featured San Jacinto College Chancellor and Commission member Brenda Hellyer, Texas 2036 CEO Margaret Spellings, former Texas Association of Community Colleges President and CEO Jacob Fraire, and Ruth López Turley of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Dr. Hellyer replied, “We can’t do this alone.” She discussed that as the commission continues to develop its framework, establish the details of its plan, and explore what student supports look like and mean for students, having them at the forefront of these conversations is vital. She encouraged students like Ángel to “stay engaged because we are going to need you more now than ever.”

Fraire echoed the message, saying, “We can produce report after report that talks about the effect the state funding formula has on community college students and transfer students time and time again, but your testimony before the Legislature makes it real.”

During the panel, Dr. Hellyer voiced that adequate funding for community colleges is a central goal “to make sure that our states’ community colleges, all 50, can support all Texans…We’re the workforce engine of this state, the training engine, so how do we ensure those resources are put out there?” The commission is working to answer this question in its final report due to the Legislature on November 1.

Resounding support for the commission’s draft further empowered SAC members. “We are grateful that the commission listened to students to better identify comprehensive policy solutions,” said Ángel García Donjuán, SAC member and former Dallas College student. “If adopted, these solutions will help us contribute to a strong Texas economy with the support we need to stay afloat in a challenging economy.”

Dr. Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College Chancellor & Commission member, speaks with SAC Member Christian Elizondo at TribFest

Additionally, the students shared how attending TribFest was an incredible opportunity to hear from and engage with Texas policy and higher education leaders. “TribFest was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It was cool seeing so many diverse perspectives. I enjoyed hearing panelists as they discussed projects we had helped in.” said SAC member and San Jacinto College student Christian Elizondo.

SAC member and Austin Community College student Kay Trent shared a similar sentiment, “Attending TribFest is an experience I encourage everyone to have at least once. The networking, speakers, panels, and interactions were golden opportunities and huge gateways into the world. It was nice to see other students being able to interact and pose questions while hearing from the very people that are impacting our lives as college students.”

Learn more about the Community College Student Advisory Council and their advocacy for policy solutions in Texas.