Five years ago Lone Star College System (LSCS) asked voters to pass a bond. This year they are doing it again and making the same promises they broke in 2008. The new bond issue, if passed, could drive the total debt load of LSCS to $1 billion. You may not be able to do much about a $16 trillion debt at the national level but you can do quite a bit about a potential $1 billion debt in your own backyard.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “When you run in debt; you give another power over your liberty.”
The LSCS bond on the May 11th ballot is a case in point.
Residents within LSCS are being told by the administration that passing this bond will not raise taxes and that the bond is necessary for improving the infrastructure of the college system to meet the demands of growing student body. We can dismiss the no tax increase stuff pretty quick. The last time a LSCS bond passed in 2008 the same promise was made but taxes and the tax rate increased after 2008. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice—you fill in the blank. If LSCS didn’t keep its promise in 2008 voters have no reason to think they will keep their word in 2013.
The second point—that we need more buildings to meet student growth—requires a more detailed response. First, the rate of growth that LSCS predicts is 30,000 students more than what the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board predicts. In fact, this past August the Chancellor of LSCS, Richard Carpenter, predicted flattening enrollment in his letter introducing the 2011-2012 Cumulative Annual Financial Report. He has changed his tune now that a bond is up for a vote.
Since 2006 LSCS has seen a tremendous increase in student enrollment but that is in part due to a down economy. As the economy improves more people will be working rather than in school. Furthermore, if student enrollment does continue to increase the way to address it is not by adding excessive debt to fund the construction of brick and mortar edifices. Rather, we need smart, responsible growth if enrollment increases.
This brings us to the second point. Even if one is convinced by the idea that student enrollment is exploding we can address the growth in smart, efficient, and fiscally responsible ways. For instance, most for-credit classes offered by LSCS are scheduled between 10 and 2, Monday through Thursday. These are peak hours. To even out peak hours LSCS should schedule more for-credit classes during non-peak times—in the morning and in the evening—and on Fridays and Saturdays. We need to schedule more classes at more times to even out the peak hours. Our current facilities are being underutilized; once the facilities are being utilized at full capacity we can have a serious discussion about the need for more facilities.
Also, the more classes that move to an online or hybrid format means there will be less demand for traditional classroom space. We should be thinking about innovative means of instruction delivery that do not compromise education quality. Hybrid classes, classes that meet one day in a classroom and other days online, are a fantastic way to address this issue.
The last reason why voters should reject this new bond issue is because the projects that were begun with the last bond issue have not been brought to completion. At a minimum we should see if all the projects that began in 2008 will address our current concerns. We should pause and assess, not run forward into more debt.
Voters within the Lone Star College District should encourage responsible, fiscally conservative budgeting practices. This means spending only what you have and not a dime more. Remember what Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest dangers to be feared.”