Houston Community College is going west.

On Dec. 5 the HCC board of trustees approved the purchase of 24 acres to relocate its Katy campus about 4 miles west to 228 Colonial Parkway, Katy, near the intersection of I-10 and the Grand Parkway. For $55 million, the project will fund a 140,000-square-foot school building with a capacity of 7,000 students.

The current campus—at 1550 Foxlake Drive, near the intersection of North Fry Road and I-10—with its 108,500-square-foot retrofitted office building will be sold. All HCC-Katy students will start classes at the new campus mid-2021.

The goal of HCC’s expansion is twofold: meet an increased need for accessible secondary education in West Houston through a partnership with the University of Houston System and increase revenue, officials said. This increased revenue comes from the higher tuition and fees HCC charges to Katy-area students because the Katy area does not pay property taxes, unlike the rest of HCC’s service area.

Since 1990 the household population in the West Houston area has more than tripled and shows no signs of slowing down, according to the Houston-Galveston Area Council. It projects West Houston will grow from 1.3 million people in 2015 to 2 million people in 2045.

But the HCC-Katy campus is at capacity at about 4,000 students and not equipped to properly prepare students for the growing need of professionals in health care and science, technology, engineering and math careers, HCC officials said. An updated, larger building is required.

Several HCC-Katy students said they like the location of the existing campus but understand that a larger campus is needed to accommodate growth. The West Houston business community welcomes the influx of educated professionals that will meet their hiring needs.

“This is an opportunity for us to expand enrollment besides the areas that we have right now and meet our vision while we’re generating additional income that comes into HCC to help us with our operational expenses,” HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado said at the Nov. 28 board of trustees meeting.

Growing the student body

HCC projects that enrollment at the new Katy campus will grow from 4,000 to 7,000 students within 18-24 months of opening, HCC spokesperson Janice Evans said.

To do this HCC is expanding its partnerships with the University of Houston and the University of Houston-Victoria, both of which will be located at their own new Katy campus adjacent to the new HCC-Katy.

HCC-Katy will offer freshman- and sophomore-level courses that will directly transfer over to UH’s departments of engineering and nursing as well as UH-Victoria’s four departments. Neither UH nor UH-Victoria will offer the lower-level courses to their Katy programs.

“We’re doing something that’s quite different from the traditional ‘two plus two’ because we’re sharing the resources,  so we’re not having to put up duplicate buildings [or hire duplicate faculty,]” Maldonado said. “We’re working together with [UH System] in particular here in delivering courses in the least expensive way to the students.”

Through the existing “Start in Katy, Finish in Katy” partnership between HCC and UH-Victoria at Katy, students can complete their associate degree at HCC and bachelor’s degree at UH-Victoria at Katy for less than $25,000 without driving across Houston to another college

Hundreds of students have taken advantage of the “Start in Katy, Finish in Katy” program, said Ronald Salazar, the associate provost of UH-Victoria at Katy, which is leasing space inside an office building at 2002 W. Grand Parkway N., Katy, until the new campus is finished in fall 2019. The number of students participating in the program is expected to grow because UH-Katy will add engineering and nursing degrees to the course catalogue, officials said.

HCC-Katy and UH-Victoria at Katy are also working to expand HCC’s dual-credit classes at Katy ISD so that KISD students can complete nearly all of their core requirements for free in high school, take a few at HCC and then complete the last two years of courses at UH-Victoria at Katy, said Karla Hernandez DeCuir, the senior director of enrollment management and external affairs at UH-Victoria at Katy.

Funding the new campus

The existing HCC-Katy campus is not prepared to educate UH System’s lower-level undergraduates, officials said.  The building is at capacity with no room to expand on the property. A new campus allows HCC-Katy to grow enrollment and design a building for specific community needs, officials said.

But several HCC board members have expressed concerns at the hefty price  of a new building in an area that does not pay taxes like the rest of HCC’s service area.

The Katy area is within HCC’s service area set by the Texas Legislature, but Katy-area residents have not voted to become part of HCC’s taxing district, which levies a $0.100263 property tax.

HCC charges students who live in the Katy area higher tuition to make up for the lost tax revenue. From the out-of-district tuition rates HCC was able to pay off its $14 million Katy campus in 2015 and has since been using the extra money, about $1.2 million over the three years, to fund other campuses.

To help pay for the new campus HCC will also charge an additional building-use fee to every student taking courses at Katy. This will be $5 per credit hour, according to HCC documents.

Based on existing tuition rates and state funding per student, the building-use fee, and the sale of three HCC properties, HCC expects the new campus to increase revenue by $168 million over the term of the outstanding debt related to the project, 27 years, with a total net revenue of about $100 million, according to HCC documents.

But this expected revenue assumes HCC-Katy’s enrollment grows to 7,000 students by 2022, according to HCC documents. These numbers worry board member Dave Wilson, and he questioned whether demand for HCC’s education programing exists.

“If we had a reputation, or people were flocking to come to HCC because we had a good product, I would expect the good folks from Katy, Texas, to want to pay their share of taxes and join our district,” he said at the Nov. 28 board meeting.

HCC is not currently pursuing the annexation of the Katy area, Evans said.

But with the projected population growth and partnerships with UH System, Maldonado believes the students will come.

“The market is there, there’s high growth in that community,” he said. “What drew our attention to it initially is the fact that our current Katy campus is at or near capacity, the community continues to grow, and it’s in our service district, so we need to be responsive.”

Community response

Some students at the Katy campus have mixed feelings about relocating and paying additional fees for their HCC education.

Freshmen Maryann Del Rio and Joel Mina live within walking distance of the existing campus, and they are paying more for tuition than they expected.

Del Rio and Mina understand their tuition rates are higher because Katy is not within the taxing district, and they hope the new building will offer more courses.

“Houston is growing,” Del Rio said. “And you got to build to meet that.”

Students may be hesitant about the move, but local businesses are supportive, said Auggie Campbell, the president and CEO of the West Houston Association, a nonprofit that promotes growth in West Houston. The organization projects over the next 40 years, over 1.4 million people will move to the region.

He explained the workforce is retiring at a rapid pace, but Greater Houston higher-education institutions cannot teach students fast enough to fill the jobs. The new HCC campus is uniquely positioned because about 3 million people will be able to travel to the new Katy campus within a half-hour radius, he said adding there are few places in Houston which have that attribute.

Salazar agreed. He noted that between Amazon’s, Igloo’s and FedEx’s new facilities, the new medical campuses and the Energy Corridor, there is demand for skilled workers in the Katy area.

“There’s no way we would with our current educational resources be able to provide educational opportunity to this region without the help of HCC,” Campbell said. “[HCC, UH System and KISD] can really create pathways to opportunity that our members—businesses that include engineering firms, hospitals, utilities—see as absolutely essential.”