Pam Boehm mug

As we prepare for the holiday season at the college, reflecting on the birth of Christ as the reason for the season, we begin talking about our various holiday traditions, favorite childhood presents and best memories.  

What are some of those holiday traditions that you have celebrated year after year? Do you remember your favorite childhood memory? For me, my family holiday tradition is gathering the family together and playing hand after hand of 42 dominoes. Growing up, we kids were not permitted to play 42 with the adults, however, we were allowed to sit and watch them play. After watching what seemed like thousands of 42 hands being played, we learned pretty much how the game was played. 

What I learned from that experience was in order to play 42 in this family, you had to be competitive because everyone took it seriously.  Winning and having bragging rights for the next year was very important. The most exciting thing about playing 42 was that we were with our family, surrounded by the ones we love the most, and even though it might have been a long time since seeing relatives, it was as if you started the hand where you left off last Christmas. 

Another tradition about 42 in my family was that you always had the same partners year after year. If someone did not show up, it threw things off.  It was usually the males against the females, therefore, there was a lot of trash talk going on as to “who would win,” “who would cheat,” or some other nonsense. Regardless, the night always ended with much laughter, love and fellowship with family. 

Remembering traditions such as these are so important for kids. These types of memories that are elicited are similar to smelling grandma’s apple pie, or viewing the same Christmas ornaments that you have seen year after year on the tree. These memories bring about emotions and feelings of safety, stability and laughter for children.

Another tradition for me is the annual visit to the local department store to see Santa. Yes, the big guy himself. The one in the red suit, with the white beard. I remember the first trip to see the guy everyone referred to as Saint Nick. Do you remember the first time that you sat on the big guy’s knee? Do you recall exactly how he looked? Did he have snow white hair and beard, gold rimmed round glasses and brightest of bright red velvet suit? 

My earliest memory of Santa was one of fright. Accompanied with a brother 14 months older than me, I remember visiting the local department store to meet up with the man in the red suit. We were dressed as if we were attending church because we knew we would have our picture made. With hair pin curled the night before, bangs cut way too high, starched, hand sewn, green and red plaid dress and black paton shoes with laced turned down socks, I was ready to meet up with this man of mystery. 

I recall on the way to the store wondering if he would be nice to me or if he would be gruff and mean. I had always heard that if you were not good around Christmastime, you would get switches in your stockings. I lay awake many nights before Christmas wondering what kind of Santa would be so mean to little children to leave them switches. How would he know about my failing grade on my fourth grade handwriting paper, and the fact that I buried it in the alley behind my house to keep my mom from finding it? Would he know that I pushed my brother into the bed for nagging me? 

My mind was racing as we approached the store on main street. As I caught a glimpse of him in the back of the store with a line of kids in front, I vividly remember my brother pushing me in front of him for me to be first in line, which usually meant that if Santa didn’t kill me, he would be OK to go next and ask for the bicycle he wanted. Santa always turned out to not be so bad. He asked me if I had been good, what I wanted for Christmas, and handed me a candy cane. I slid off his lap thinking, “That wasn’t so bad. He seems like a pretty OK guy, and he didn’t mention anything to me about me pushing my brother into the bed, or if he saw me burying the handwriting paper in the alley, he sure didn’t say anything about it.”

As everything seems so large when your young, our minds are filled with all of the wonders and excitement that the holidays bring. How great it is that kids can still go sit on Santa’s lap and open up their heart’s desire. Which in turn, causes me to reflect on our own traditions at the college and what our students and their families remember about their holidays. Would they have fond memories of Santa, or remember gathering around the tree singing Christmas carols. What would they ask Santa for? A new cellphone or some valued possession. More than likely, our students would ask for money for books, tuition, fees and equipment. Perhaps money for gas or money for childcare expenses while they go to school. Perhaps better transportation to get to school or maybe an A on their English research paper. 

My wish for my students would be for them to have the resources they need to be successful and meet their educational goals to better themselves, to better their families, and to pursue a bachelor’s degree or land that job in the workforce that they have been seeking. To leave our institution prepared for the next phase and to have peace in their lives.

So many college students struggle with making ends meet while trying to get educated to earn a better living. As the cost of attending college continues to increase, so does the public scrutiny of the cost of education and increasing student loan default rates. With the concern of rising debt, our partnership with Wright Internal Student Services (WISS) for loan default management is crucial to assist students with good information about borrowing wisely. 

We pride ourselves at Hill College on celebrating a loan default rate of 7.3 percent, which is excellent, meaning that our students are being educated about sensible borrowing and only borrowing for the amount they need, not the amount they qualify for, thus strapping them with debt they will be paying back for years to come.  

According to the November 2018 Student Financial Wellness Survey by Trellis Research, of which 33 Texas Community College and 234,170 students participated, more than half of the respondents (58 percent) who reported having student loan debt agreed or strongly agreed that they had more student loan debt than they expected at this point. Nearly two-thirds of respondents who reported having student loan debt were not at all confident (28 percent) or only somewhat confident (36 percent) that they would be able to pay off the debt acquired while they were a student.

Hill College continues to be an excellent return on student’s and parent’s investment. With low tuition, as well as grant and scholarship opportunities, students can finish their education with little to no debt.

So why the increase in college tuitions? With less state funds, community college educators are having to rely on tuition and fees and local property taxes to continue educating its students and providing resources for them to be successful. There is a disconnect. In 2017, there were over 700,800 (47 percent) students enrolled in Texas community colleges. Ninety-three percent of all technical and associate degrees in Texas were awarded by community colleges and over 161,600 high school students were enrolled in dual credit in community colleges in Texas. With community college comprising the largest sector of Texas higher education, why do state dollars continue to decline?

So Santa, big guy in the red suit, as I give you my wish list this year, I would like for you to consider the number of Texans that community colleges are putting to work. The majority of the nurses, fireman, policemen, paramedics, welders, electricians, industrial workers that are coming from our local community colleges. My wish this year is for funds to keep putting Texans to work this year. Funds to provide equipment for those electricians, welders, and HVAC technicians to learn how to master their craft. 

Perhaps, a stocking full of money to pay teachers who so deserve the best that we can give them for producing excellence in our classrooms. So, I would like to ask you for money this year. Yes, the green stuff. With over 93 percent of all technical and associate degrees being awarded in Texas from a community college, and with 74 percent of all bachelor’s degree graduates having community college courses and more than 30 semester hours credit of transfer work to the universities, why are our state dollars declining? This year my wish list starts with funding to help our students who struggle with making ends meet to be able to have the resources they need to be a productive member of society.  

To sum it up Santa, although I admit to pushing my brother, and yes I did bury the paper in the alley behind my house, please know I care about students succeeding in college. I care about putting Texans to work, and I want to do our part to contribute to our local workforce. As we go into a new legislative session, please consider that public schools, community colleges, universities and industry partners are working together to meet the workforce needs in Texas.  

Santa, this is going to be a great year in higher education, and I promise to keep doing what we do best, training Texans with the skills they need to be productive in society.  

To our community, from the Hill College family to your family, our wish for you this Christmas is peace and love and being surrounded by friends and family while experiencing wonderful traditions and making lasting memories.

 

Dr. Pam Boehm is 

president Hill College

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