In Texas, a new law has passed that will change the game for community college students in the Lone Star State. The bi-partisan passage of House Bill 8 (HB8), authored by Texas State Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) and Texas State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), invests $678.6 million in affordability and outcomes for community college students across Texas, especially students from low-income backgrounds and adult learners. With Texas facing a growing skilled workforce shortage, this new law presents Texans with more opportunities to earn credentials in high-demand, high-wage jobs.

Among the exciting stories surrounding House Bill 8, one that stands out is the pivotal role that student advocates played in its development.

Three students and a legislator testifying at a legislative chamber sitting on a tableFor over a year, The Education Trust in Texas has been working with partners, Young Invincibles and Breakthrough Central Texas, to organize and support the Texas Community College Student Advisory Council (SAC), a group of over a dozen community college students from across the state, comprising first-generation college students, student parents, returning veterans, and adult learners from both rural and urban areas.

The Student Advisory Council gives community college students a voice in shaping education policies and practices across the state. Its members have served as a bridge between students and decision-makers to provide valuable feedback and insights on issues that shape their educational experiences. As a result, these student advocates are helping to cultivate a more student-centered education system that supports the success of all community college students.

Here is a look at the advocacy efforts and accomplishments of this Student Advisory Council over the past year that has led to the successful passage of HB8:

In June 2022, five student leaders represented the council at the Community College Association of Texas Trustees Conference in Houston and spoke on multiple panels, where they discussed the challenges and opportunities they faced directly with college leaders.

In the months that followed, members shared their personal experiences and policy recommendations through public testimony before the Texas Commission on Community College Finance, as well as advocacy coalitions and interviews with local reporters. This led to the culmination of the final report and recommendations of the Texas Commission on Community College Finance that was released in November 2022.

Some of the notable testimonies shared came from the council’s student leaders:

  • Ángel García Donjuán, a former Dallas College student, emphasized the value of dual credit opportunities he personally benefited from and the importance of credit transfer.
  • Brendan Batchelder, a student parent from Paris Junior College, shared the financial challenges he faced while working low-paying jobs in school, despite receiving emergency funding. He expressed the need to change funding formulas to better recognize and support students like him.
  • Nautika Trotty, a first-generation college student at Kilgore College, highlighted the initial challenges she faced and the vital support she received from guidance counselors and professors. She emphasized the need for more mental health resources to support student’s academic success and overcome the stresses that come with working multiple jobs to cover expenses beyond tuition.

These testimonies were instrumental in shaping the Commission’s final recommendations to the Texas legislature, emphasizing the need for improved support services, dual credit access, financial aid, and high-quality learning opportunities for Texas community college students.

In January 2023, the Student Advisory Council took part in Community College Day 2023 at the Texas Capitol, hosted by the Texas Association of Community Colleges. Council leaders helped prepare hundreds of fellow community college students as they met directly with their state legislators to share their stories and champion the recommendations of the state’s Commission on Community College Finance. Following these legislative visits, leaders held a students-only debrief session to reflect on their interactions with state leaders at the Capitol and commit to next steps of action.

“My experience at Community College Day was magical and it inspired me to return to Austin to share more of my personal experiences to impact legislators and apply for the Student Advisory Council,” said new SAC member Chelsea Talley. “I never realized my own potential for leadership until now and how these roles and positions are within reach. I could ignite change for students like me in Texas.”

Student Advisory Council members continued their advocacy by returning to the Texas Capitol to testify at committee hearings as the community college finance legislation, HB8, moved through the process. Victoria Hoover, and Montoya Thomas highlighted how specific provisions in the bill connected to their own experiences and would lead to future students’ success.

“Joining the SAC was grounded in my mission to advocate for equitable education,” stated College of the Mainland student and SAC member Elias Ramirez. “Making higher education more affordable and accessible provides life-changing opportunities for my peers and the next generation of students to advance not only their careers but their lives and the livelihood of their families,” Ramirez remarked.

Throughout the legislative session, student leaders learned about and advocated in support of various proposed legislation that would benefit the educational access and success of community college students, from community college funding reform in HB8 to giving students an academic fresh start through SB200. These student advocates’ shared stories and outspoken support for related higher education bills, emphasizes the need for continued efforts to address the various challenges faced by community college students in Texas.

As this legislative session ends, we commend state leaders for listening to — and working alongside — students to pass transformative Texas community college finance reform. This milestone legislation holds immense significance for the Student Advisory Council, whose dedicated efforts over the past year were instrumental in shaping the bill and will continue to be necessary to ensure educational and economic opportunity for all Texans.