Once upon a time, in a rural area of Central Texas, there was a vision to extend education beyond elementary and high school. Thus, Hillsboro, Texas, became an early adopter in the statewide junior college movement. As the story is told, Hillsboro Junior College would be one of the first public junior colleges in the state of Texas. Upon its opening in 1923, the first semester began with six faculty members and 52 students. Eighty-seven students were enrolled during the first year. By 1927, the college’s facilities were considered “state-of-the-art,” and it was not uncommon to have students driving from Waco, Corsicana and as far away as Fort Worth.
As the first municipal junior college to be chartered in Texas, combining high school and junior college, Hillsboro Junior College became home of a state champion football team. As in any story, you must have a main character, and one of the most notable players on this state championship football team was none other than Bob Bullock (1947-48). Leading the state of Texas as a member of the House of Representatives, followed by being elected as the 38th lieutenant governor of Texas, a mutual relationship began between Lt. Gov. Bullock and Hill College with the local lieutenant governor advocating for higher education and for his beloved alma mater.
In fact, advocating in such a way that Hill College’s Texas Heritage Museum became one of three community college museums in the state to receive state appropriations as an adage of providing an educational and historical resource to the citizens of the county and state.
It is not uncommon for stories to have more than one main character, thus a second character emerged in the Hill College story, and one who made it possible for the city of Hillsboro to reopen its college in 1962 after closing for 11 years when an attempt to establish a county-wide college system failed. State Sen. Crawford Martin, a graduate of Hillsboro Junior College, protected the charter during that time and attached an amendment to a bill to allow inactive junior colleges to start back up in the state. The voters would have to approve a bond issue to construct a building for the College. In return, there was a promise of state funding of about $275 per student, once this was accomplished to the satisfaction of the State Board of Education, thus the beginning of Hill Junior College in Hillsboro.
In the early 1920s–’50s, community colleges fell on difficult times because they had to rely on local voters passing bonds to build and operate their facilities, thus becoming a standard regulation even to this day.
Currently, with 51 community colleges in the state of Texas, funds to educate and operate come from tuition and fees, local taxes and state appropriations. Each community college board is required by state law to levy annual ad valorem taxes for the maintenance of district facilities. Community colleges receive no funds from the state to maintain the upkeep and operation of their facilities; therefore, a relationship and understanding of the economic impact to the state is critical with state legislators in appropriating general revenue funds to the colleges.
Education in Hill County was expanded to North Texas, and in 1974, the college opened an extension center in Cleburne. The Johnson County Campus now includes six buildings on 32 acres of land, has more than 1,200 students enrolled in both day and evening classes, and has the majority of its technical education programs at state-of-the art facilities in downtown Cleburne. With a passion for educating students in its service area, in 1997 and 1998, Hill College, along with city trailblazers, went to the citizens of Alvarado, Cleburne, Godley, Grandview, Joshua, Keene, Rio Vista and Venus whom approved a local maintenance and operation tax for the purpose of supporting a campus of Hill College in Johnson County.
Fast-forwarding the story to today, during the 85th legislative session, administrators of Hill College found themselves once again in Austin to tell the community college story with the key focus on its relevance to and the economic impact of its programs and services on the state of Texas.
With 93 percent of the firefighters, police officers, paramedics, RNs, electricians, HVAC technicians and welders coming from community colleges, we are doing our part to ensure that the state has a highly trained and skilled workforce.
So, how does this story end ...?
During the 85th Legislative Session, the Senate eliminated all special-item funding, which meant that Hill College’s Texas Heritage Museum was at risk of closing its doors. Although, the House of Representatives came back with a 9 percent cut to special items, the Texas Heritage Museum survived with the help of two local representatives passionate about education and history, state Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, (Johnson and Bosque counties) and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, (Hill, Anderson, Freestone and Navarro counties).
Without these local heroes, mid-sized colleges such as Hill College could not survive. Hill College is a college for its community and is “missionary” in taking education to the citizens in its service area, and would not exist today without its heroes ... its local legislators.
Pam Boehm is president
of Hill College