Steve Head

The former president of Lone Star College-North Harris, Steve Head was appointed the fourth chancellor of the Lone Star College System on July 1 after more than 30 years working for the community college system.

Head took over as chancellor at a time of growth for LSCS, which he said has seen its enrollment grow by 68 percent since 2007 through the addition of more than 33,000 credit students. With the growth in enrollment comes a need to accommodate the rising student population as LSCS hopes to pass a $485 million bond referendum in November. LSCS is working to address concerns by voters who voted against the bond a year ago.

Head said he is proud of LSCS and the effect it has had on communities throughout the Greater Houston area.

"Few people have the opportunity to impact our society the way community colleges do," Head said. "I feel very strongly about the role of community colleges in the state and, really, in the country. We are the largest single sector of higher [education] in the state right now."

Can LSCS continue to add new students and pass bond referendums to fund new facilities, or is there a point where the system can no longer expand?

We don't see the growth slowing down anytime soon. That's the challenge we have. That's why we're seeking another bond. If you look out at the horizon, we know where the growth is coming. It's all over, but you look where [the Grand Parkway] is coming in—we know where communities are being planned.

Why do you believe the 2013 bond referendum failed?

We had a low voter turnout. We had that vote in May. The election this time will be in November, so we'll have a greater voter turnout. I think more than anything else it was a lack of communication. And that's on us. Very few people get the opportunity to make the changes that we do. We know what we're doing, and we think you know what we're doing. But that doesn't translate to people coming out to the polls sometimes.

Why should a resident within the LSCS service area who is not a student or a parent of a student vote to approve this bond referendum?

The simple answer is a rising tide raises all boats. The way our community is going to be successful over the long term is having an educated public. With an education, you learn to be a good citizen. Some of these big companies want us to teach our students how to dress, how to act, how to deal with conflict resolution, how to show up on time. It's about improving our society as a whole. That's what we're talking about. We do all this training for EMTs and police officers and nurses and things that you may not know until you actually need them. That's what we do with all this training behind the scenes is [help create] the infrastructure for a successful society.

Why can't LSC fund new facilities using property tax revenue?

We do not generate enough new income on tax revenue from our tax base. For example, the bond is less than $485 million. So the increase in tax base generates about $10 [million] to $12 million in new money. We are so large right now, that if we give pay raises of 2 percent it takes about $3 million out of that. There's not enough money being generated by the tax base alone to pay for a new building. It's one thing to go out and buy a small item in your household like a washing machine or a new TV, and it's another thing to go out and have a house mortgage.

How does the process of seeking suitable colleges for University Center work, and what would cause a particular college to leave?

The universities historically have areas where they focus on, like different program areas. The Woodlands, for example, Sam Houston [State University] had education and business, and it just so happened those are the two hottest programs you could possibly have. But that was 15 years ago, so they cornered the market on that. Our agreements normally are that you can't duplicate programs. We don't want colleges coming up and offering three business programs. I know we're in the education business, but these are also business propositions. So you can't be losing money over an extended period. So at the University Center in The Woodlands, some colleges backed out because they never could get enough students. Part of that is the programs that they offered, and part of it is the time that they offer [classes]. Sometimes they didn't offer enough courses at the right times. Most of it, though, is a financial decision.

There was a lot of opposition toward the 2013 bond from Montgomery County voters. Is more emphasis being placed on Montgomery County in terms of getting the information out on this bond?

We're reaching out to groups and individuals that have concerns about the bond last time. If it's about class utilization, we want to show you what we've done with that—we try to answer your question. If it's about the financing and how we're handling that, talk with us about that. I think we're doing a much better job explaining how we're going about that this year. We're talking to large groups and small groups about this. But tell us where you have concerns about this [bond referendum]. There is no tax hike in the bond, because we're so large and our accessed value [is so large]. We pay off the debt without a tax hike because we have enough money coming in on our tax rate.

By Matt Stephens
Matt Stephens joined Community Impact Newspaper in December 2012. A Tomball native and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Matt joined as a reporter for The Woodlands team before being promoted to help launch the Spring | Klein edition in spring of 2014 and later to North Houston managing editor in late 2015. He has served as managing editor to the Phoenix and Nashville papers since August 2020.