This past year was difficult for state institutions across Texas, including San Jacinto College. We faced record enrollment in the midst of significant legislative debates about budget and educational accountability measures. Between current biennium cuts and looking into the next biennium, the College was forced to find a way to manage approximately $20 million in reductions to the 2011-2013 budget. As Chancellor, this is not the future that I envisioned for San Jacinto College, but I realize it is our reality.
On Monday night, the San Jacinto College Board of Trustees approved the FY2011-2012 operating budget of $135,499,797. Through all of the challenges we have experienced over the last year, I am very pleased with how far we have come to get this budget balanced and approved without raising tuition or increasing our maintenance tax rates. While I can’t guarantee that won’t happen in the future, I am committed to not passing on the burden to our students and community, as many of you are facing the same struggles.
The College’s leadership team, with input from employees and students, has worked diligently over the past several months to manage the decline and ensure that our budget is balanced. These were difficult decisions, but included in the plan was a voluntary separation and severance plan, a soft hiring freeze, and operational budget cuts. Through these measures, we generated significant cost savings. Our mission at San Jacinto College is to ensure student success, and one of our four strategic goals is our people, and both of these were at the forefront of each budget decision we made. I hope our community will see that having a balanced budget moving forward in tough economic times is a positive move, especially when we see that other institutions and organizations are having a much more difficult time while raising tuition and tax assessment rates.
In our budget, we established a pool for compensation dollars. Two years ago, we implemented a robust performance management system for all of our employees, with annual pay increases based on individual employee performance. We have spent significant time at the College implementing performance management for all employees, faculty, staff, and administrators. As we continue to implement this system that is truly unique in higher education, it is important that I see it through and reward those employees who are going above and beyond in their performance. Through the performance management system, we have raised the bar on our expectations of employee performance, and we have aligned work efforts with our four strategic goals – student success, P-16 pipeline, workforce and economic development, and our people. An employee who earns a rating of “valuable contributor” has truly lived our College values and has performed his or her job with absolute excellence. Our people are our most valuable asset – our people are San Jacinto College. Even though all of us are aware of the current economic challenges, the College must continue to fund startup programs and invest to expand high demand programs. As we innovate and discover new ways to operate the College, we are committed to repurposing and directing funding according to our strategic goals.
San Jacinto College has a history of being fiscally responsible. While this has been a challenging year, and we have had to reduce costs in many areas, I am so proud of the fact that we have not laid off people. With our focus on our four strategic goals, we are weathering this storm, and will continue to do so in the future. We are hearing from our elected officials that we will go into the next legislative session with a deficit. We know that managing further cuts will be required. I am often asked, “Do you worry about the reductions we have taken?” And the simple answer is, I most certainly do. I worry about the impact on our students, I worry about the impact on all of our employees, and I worry about the impact on our community. Innovation and excellence are two of our College values. The excellence shows in the number of employees who serve on statewide or national initiatives. I am pleased to tell you that San Jacinto College is being looked at across the state of Texas, and across the nation, for the innovative programs we are implementing to address the accountability measures and management practices. These things are happening due to our innovative employees who embody excellence.
We were fortunate to have the support of our community in 2008 when voters overwhelmingly approved a $295 million bond referendum to support our growth. The bond is funding infrastructure improvements, as well as the construction of new facilities to better serve our students in the critical student support areas and in allied health and science, as well as a state-of-the-art transportation center. This is a true testament to our community understanding our needs, and supporting us as we move forward. We are well under way in the construction of these facilities – in fact, the transportation center opened this semester for students in our automotive technology program. I thank all of you for your support of San Jacinto College and our building program. Even if you don’t have students attending the College at this time, the investment of creating an educated workforce will keep jobs in our community.
As the College celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, I can’t help but think back on our golden past while at the same time look to the future. I am amazed at the determination of our founders and the supporters who rallied to create this college, despite the opposition they received. I’m thankful that they believed in the need for quality and affordable higher education in East Harris County. We have been compiling our history and it is impressive. We have weathered several storms… both literally and figuratively. Our future, although it might look just a little different, will be even more extraordinary. I am hearing the term “new normal” everywhere these days. That is true at San Jacinto College. We are realizing a new normal in how we deliver education, in accountability measures in student success, and in the resources available to do all this.
We’re expecting to welcome more than 30,000 students this semester. Despite the decrease in state funding, coupled with another record enrollment, we will move forward with our innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to tackle the challenges and changes that will continue to impact us. We understand the dire nature of the state’s budget, but we also must continue to serve our students and our community. We will embrace the future and all that it brings to advance our student success agenda and serve our students. We are fiscally conservative and this has made us a strong institution, even in this “new normal.” As the leader of this institution, I can assure you that my goal is for San Jacinto College to continue to be a leader in higher education, not only in our region, but throughout the state and across the nation as well.