As the fight over whether the voters of Erath and neighboring counties should accept annexation by the Ranger College District, it’s important to note that most of the debate has been over whether the voters should accept the new property tax to be imposed by the District should annexation take place. Much less discussion has been devoted to the services and programs Ranger College provides. Ranger’s services and programs may not justify the costs of annexation—so the anti-annexation forces say—yet they’re great enough to justify discussion of what Ranger College should do next, if its annexation attempt fails.
Of the benefits Ranger College offers, two stand out: First, Ranger College offers low-cost alternatives to students seeking dual credit or college credit yet who may not be able to afford Tarleton or other colleges. Ranger offers a low-cost alternative which allows students of modest circumstances to begin their pursuit of a college degree.
And, second, Ranger College also allows students to pursue useful, honest, honorable, and lucrative careers which don’t require college degrees—careers in cosmetology, welding, or truck driving, for example. Not every student needs to be in college, and those who want to pursue other careers which don’t require college degrees are wasting their time and money pursuing such degrees. It’s better for all concerned that we reject the idea that everyone needs to go to college and that to fail to get a degree is proof that one’s a failure. Anyone who can support himself or herself through honest labor should be adjudged a successful and worthwhile citizen, and Ranger College should be respected and welcomed for providing the opportunities to help pursue careers which don’t require college degrees.
But what about financing Range College? As was noted last week, to expect and rely on voter acceptance of a higher property tax rate to help finance Ranger College was a tactical mistake of the first order. On the one hand, the property tax is the least popular tax: It’s regressive, extracting a bigger percentage of income from those with smaller incomes, and it’s normally collected in one lump sum, rather than by smaller installments, as is the case of the sales tax, or through the sort of payroll deductions by which the federal income tax is payed. On the other hand, the property tax is the most subject to voter control at the local level; hence most tax revolts are against the property tax.
Moreover, to use the property tax—or any tax—to finance higher education raises a question of fairness. Should those who have not gone, or do not plan to go, to college be required to pay for the education of those who do?
Traditionally, in Texas and in other states, it’s been believed that the benefits of an educated citizenry justify the use of local and state taxes to support public education as well as state taxes to support higher education. Thus taxes can and should be taken from those unlikely to go to college themselves and used to finance the college education of others, even if this means taking money from those with lower incomes, and using it to finance the education of those likely to earn higher incomes down the road.
But the trend in recent years, at least in Texas, is to shift the burden of financing colleges and universities from the general public to the students themselves, by ever increasing their fees and tuition charges. This reflects legislative concerns over higher state expenditures, as well as the growing belief that since college and university graduates themselves will benefit the most from their degrees, in terms of future earning power, they should pay the most for their education
So how should Ranger College finance itself in the future, should annexation fail? Perhaps the fairest way is to require students to shoulder the entire cost of their education through increased tuition. After all—they’ll benefit the most from their education, so shouldn’t they pay the most?
Of course, the problem here is that raising the cost of higher education will make it more difficult for those born into modest or impoverished circumstances to pay for the educational opportunities that might otherwise help them advance. Yet charging students the full cost of their education does not mean they can’t get grants or loans to help them with their financing. Nor does it preclude financial aid from the industries seeking new workers educated by Ranger College, and who might be willing to help underwrite the costs of their education.
So whatever one thinks of Ranger College’s current financial plans and designs on our tax dollars, the fact remains that it is a true educational asset. One hopes that once the dust settles after this election, it can develop a fairer tuition-based plan for financing its activities, with generous and accessible student aid and industrial support. Ranger’s post-election success will benefit not only itself and its students, but the entire community of which Ranger is an invaluable part.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.