Paris Community College – Dollars and ‘Sense’
On November 8th, residents of parts of Lamar, Delta, Hopkins, Hunt and Red River Counties will be asked to significantly increase their property tax rates by approving to be annexed into the Paris Junior College (PJC) tax base. While the initial increase is being advertised as a low 8.5 cents per $100 valuation, that figure can be unilaterally increased to 27 cents per $100 without any authorization by the citizens of a county once they vote to join PJC’s tax base.
Each county will vote for inclusion on a county-by-county basis, but should all areas agree, the taxing base of the PJC will have an approximately ten-fold increase. PJC has hired a consultant to try and sell this project because the merits of the action certainly will not sell itself.
According to the PJC official factbook, the college had a headcount of approximately 6,000 students in 2015. Those students living outside the district pay a higher rate for services (as they should) than the students who reside within the district. Counties that agree to the annexation will receive in-district tuition and fees. While the initial proposed tax rate is only 8.5 cents per $100 valuation, PJC would have authority to increase rates up to 27 cents per $100 valuation without navigating any further approval processes.
For example, by joining the taxing district, an average homeowner in Hunt County could pay as much as $17,340 over a 60-year lifetime, whereas, they would save only $2,700 in tuition (over two years) by benefiting from the in-district tuition rate. And that’s assuming they went to school at all. The average homeowner not utilizing PJC could pay over $250 per year with absolutely no measurable benefit.
But would the benefits be worth the investment
Not even if you are a student in the district. Even though tuition is almost half the rate of out-of- district tuition, over a lifetime citizens will pay out approximately $14,640 more than they would save from tuition. In addition, the tax rate would apply to all property owners without exemptions, many of whom will never utilize community college services. In Hunt County, the single jurisdiction with the most out-of-district students, there are 1,270 students on the Greenville Campus. That is in a county with a population of a little over 87,000. Should 87,000 be subject to increased property taxes for the benefit of the 1,200?
But there are additional concerns over this massive increase in the taxing base of PJC other than just property tax rates. One of the stated programs and services included in the PJC District Service Plan is the “Ability to offer bachelor’s degree in high-demand workforce program areas.”
Specifically, PJC is interested in offering nursing bachelor’s degrees. The school would benefit significantly from increased state funding for contact hours for those courses. But, community colleges with baccalaureate programs do not maintain the same scientific and liberal education foundations used in nursing programs offered at four-year colleges. Unlike their 4-year counterparts, many community college students do not receive critical coursework in algebra and statistics. Additionally, while PJC currently has a two-year nursing program, in 2015, the PJC nursing pass rate was only 75.47 percent on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This is below the required 80 percent for first-time takers. The Board of Nursing will move PJC’s approval status from “Full” to “Full with warning” if the program experiences pass rates lower than 80 percent for two consecutive years. PJC should be focusing on improving the program it has before it expands.
Additionally, while the PJC program is approved by the Higher Education Coordinating Board, it is not accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Students from non-accredited schools who desire to go on to graduate programs in nursing are often turned away if their baccalaureate degree is not from an accredited school.
Residents of the area already have access to an accredited nursing baccalaureate program at Texas A&M Commerce. By way of comparison, Texas A&M – Commerce’s nursing program had a 93% pass rate for the NCLEX in 2015. That program is going into its third year and the campus has recently been approved to offer a Family Nurse Practitioner Program as an advanced degree.
It should also be noted that several Texas universities, including Texas A&M Commerce, currently offer four-year baccalaureate degrees with annual tuition less than $10,000.
There is not a lack of services in the area; what seems to be lacking is evidence for the claims by community colleges that they have been targeted for funding cuts by the Texas legislature.
However, if the citizens of the five counties desire to assume more financial responsibility for PJC through additional property tax burden, it would certainly be an invitation for the Legislature to reduce state funding. We do not believe this is the desire of the majority of taxpayers. Texas already has one of the highest property taxes in the nation. For many Texans, out-of-control property tax increases have caused a general outrage and dismay.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made it clear that property tax relief will be one of the top issues the legislature will address this coming legislative session. People want to own their property outright. As long as property taxes are present, however, people are only renting from the government. With the state legislature moving to protect property rights by limiting tax growth, this is hardly the time to talk about new or increasing property taxes.
In summary, we can find no justification for a ten-fold increase in the value of the district’s taxing base or the institutionalizing of a completely new property tax at a time when the State is moving to bring property tax relief to the citizens.