In the budget for this biennium, the state allocated up to $350,000 for an outside consulting group to determine what kind of administration might be necessary to handle the issue of community colleges statewide. This was one of those small budgetary items that, unless someone with an axe to grind has the stamina to stand at the back mic, no one really notices. So the money was spent, and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems came back with a report just this last week. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but the answer wasn’t that the existing Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board should handle community college administration. Oh, no. Instead, the NCHEMS calls for a “temporary” (when is government ever temporary?) agency to oversee administration.
Naturally, the THECB is up in arms over this, but perhaps Texas taxpayers should be as well. The recommendation is that as much as $1.5 million be spent to create and operate this “new agency,” in part using existing resources in the THECB. There’s a real head-shaker – why create new bureaucracy if the intent is to use staff and even appropriations from the existing agency?
Whether community college administration is being handled well statewide may be an issue in the sunset review process for the Higher Education Coordinating Board that is currently underway. This report almost guarantees that it will come up, especially given the negative reaction from THECB chairman Fred Heldenfels. However, I think it would be a mistake for legislators to create a new agency, however “temporary” it is intended to be, if the existing agency could simply be given new direction and/or discretion if this is really something we need (a debate for another day).
I find it hardly surprising, though, that this was the solution reached by an outside entity scrutinizing a system in Texas, and it could almost be interpreted that the state just spent a significant sum in order to get advice to do more spending. This is what we mean when we talk about the need for efficiency in government. We have a sunset review process for a reason, and surely something like the statewide administration of community colleges could have waited for the sunset commission, without ever approaching consultants and spending more than a quarter of a million dollars. Of course, since budget riders are put in during the committee process, there is no transparency for us to know who was behind this particular expenditure. We can only guess.