In 40 years, Austin Community College has reached many milestones, including purchasing Highland Mall for a future campus and math emporium, opening 10 campuses and growing its student enrollment by more than 41,000 students.
In 1973 when ACC first opened its doors to students, it enrolled about 2,200 students at its sole campus, Ridgeview, which was owned by Austin ISD. Barbara Mink, a trustee and one of ACC's founders, said the college's first president, Thomas Hatfield, hired faculty and staff in July 1973, about a month before the college opened.
"[The faculty and staff] worked together very well—a really high-energy group of dedicated people to the community college mission and to opening a quality school here in Austin," Mink said. "The energy, the commitment, the vision of that core group was electric."
After the college opened, it took about 13 years for ACC to become financially stable, said William Montgomery, adjunct faculty member and historian. Director of Center Operations Linda Morrison said the college leased its facilities from Austin ISD for several years. ACC was governed by the Austin ISD board until March 1, 1982, when it appointed nine members to form its own board of trustees.
"We had no facilities. ACC owned nothing back then," Morrison said. "We were just outgrowing everything we had available to us."
By 1983, the college had grown to nearly 17,000 students but did not have local tax support. Getting local tax support for ACC was a grass-roots effort by its faculty and staff, Montgomery said. Many people did not understand the purpose of community colleges, and with the presence of The University of Texas and other higher education institutions, it was difficult to convey ACC's message to voters. Two separate attempts to obtain tax support from voters failed.
In 1986 the Texas Legislature threatened not to support ACC unless it had the financial backing from ACC district voters. The property tax was approved in 1986 for 5 cents per $100 of valuation and was a milestone for ACC, Montgomery said.
Many events have contributed to the college's success, including continued voter support in 2003 when residents authorized an increase in property taxes.
"That was a huge step for Austin and for ACC to take," Montgomery said. "It provided the college with a fairly secure future."
ACC now serves areas such as Austin, Cedar Park, Round Rock, Del Valle and Elgin, and the Hays campus will open in January. ACC enrolls more than 41,000 students throughout its campuses. In August 2012, the college completed the full acquisition of Highland Mall, an important step in the college's history, Mink said.
"[Highland Mall] is a core piece of property, basically the center of our service area," Mink said. "It doubles our square footage for the college as a whole. It offers us some options."
ACC President Richard Rhodes said the college's mission during the past 40 years has been to provide residents a pathway to achieving their dreams. ACC plans to continue to work with its partners to meet student and workforce needs, he said.
"ACC has become a trusted partner, and I'm proud to say we play a profound role in growing the Central Texas economy and ensuring a great quality of life," he said.