2 min read July 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, Neil Matkin, district president of Collin College, talked about operating the college through the pandemic in order to continue growing. Matkin also shared how Collin College is able to remain the most affordable community college in the state of Texas and what can be done to increase affordability across the nation.
What have been some major lessons learned over the last year and how will you apply them going forward?
I learned that the things that I had done for 30 years successfully weren’t going to work the same way, especially because of the heightened fear everyone was operating under. We worked with faculty representatives from our disciplines to tailor a response that kept the student’s success in mind. I had to adjust my communication style to be more formal and precise because even an out-of-sync email could throw people off. Something I’m proud of is that we formed an Academic, Governance, and Strategic Planning Council, consisting of my cabinet and presidents of councils within the faculty, staff, and students and it has really enhanced our communication throughout the district, alleviating a lot of misunderstanding.
What have been some major achievements or milestones for the college?
Something paramount that I am proud of is that during the pandemic, Collin College’s enrollment held steady unlike most of our peers in the state of Texas. To us, that is a testament to the fact we put safety first, allowing us to continue operations in the safest environment we could create, and helping our students stay on track to reach their objectives. The board also invested well over $2 million to improve the air handling in every one of our campus facilities to enhance filtration and air quality. Students have responded favorably by continuing to enroll at Collin College. For the summer of 2022, we are already seeing a 6% increase in enrollment.
In 2017, we passed a $600 million bond toward four new campuses, a new center and enhancements across our entire footprint. In 2020, we opened two 340,000-square-foot campuses that cost about $160 million each. One of these is our Technical Campus which provides an amazing resource for those seeking to reskill or upskill their credentials for workforce mobility. In 2021, we opened two more campuses in the north part of our service area, where growth is rapidly accelerating.
We also opened a public safety training center for police, fire department, and EMT training, which has been oversubscribed since the pandemic started, as well as an IT center. In 2017, the Texas legislature gave us permission to launch baccalaureate degrees, with the first being a bachelor’s of science in nursing. After that came cybersecurity and, this fall, we are launching construction management. We continue to develop new programs to help our students find success in an array of high-demand fields.
What success have you had with the College Express Program?
In our 2016 strategic master plan, we set the goal to expand the college credits offered at high schools, regardless of size. We added career counselors at each high school campus throughout the district and set about working with those schools to offer greater and more diverse opportunities to students. Today, well over 90% of high schools in the counties we serve offer 30 hours of college credit and many students earn an associates degree at the same time they are going to high school. This May, more than 80 high school students will earn an associates degree from Collin College along with their high school diploma.
What do you think of the progress that has been made in keeping education affordable nationwide?
Our college has the second-lowest tax rate of any community college in Texas and the lowest in-district tuition. As a result of growth in the county, we have been able to maintain that, so our students are getting a tremendous advantage and seeing tremendous savings by applying early. Residents who pay taxes to support Collin College contribute about 3.5% of their property tax to the college.
Our low cost provides a great value to students and allows them to graduate with less debt. We have a foundation with board members who work very hard to raise money throughout the year because even in an affluent county like ours, there are students who can’t afford to go to college. Rather than having them go into debt, the foundation supplies up to $1 million in scholarships each year.
On the national scale, we have focused on utilizing our Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding to support new and returning students. Every decision we made with that funding focused on supporting and enhancing student success. When you add that to our extensive outreach efforts supporting students returning to school and ensuring financial aid applications align with current family situations, we believe we have done all we can to augment what was provided by the federal government.
In terms of the nation, adjustments to the business models of many universities will have to be made. Every budget decision that is made needs to have a student outcome in mind. If we were to do that, it would help the overall cost situation a great deal.
Was there a strategy to your DEI initiatives or did it happen organically?
By design, our initiatives have happened organically depending on our student and staff needs. We prioritized in our 2016 strategic plan to ensure our college district is welcoming and inclusive. We tasked our human resources leadership with determining that our policies are advantageous to everyone. We work hard to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Our workforce and student diversity has increased notably since 2015. We are about to announce additional initiatives for DEI training based on faculty requests who aspire to be more informed on this critical issue.
What is your outlook and what are your top priorities for the college?
I believe that the real mission of higher education is relevance. We have to be relevant to our communities, taxpayers, and students who come to us to improve their lives. We are aggressively assessing where we are today and identifying emerging trends to ensure our programs are highly responsive to our community and the students we serve.
We were already in the process of creating our first online campus, iCollin, but the pandemic accelerated our timeline. That’s been very successful and we are working hard to make sure students have full access to services. A near-term priority approved by the board is the introduction of Workday Students to replace our aging student services platform, which will bring greater mobile access to enrolling, checking grades, and so on. We have substantial input from students who would like us to add more athletics, so we are studying that and we are also studying housing costs and discussing if it is time to invest in student housing to ease that burden.
Lastly, we are making strong investments in our Corporate College and Continuing Education offerings. Our goal is to be a first choice training partner for the growing business community and industries here in North Texas. In doing that, we are starting to ramp up partnerships with the economic development corporations to be that training arm. As a successful community college, we want to be the go-to source for employers seeking the highly-trained talent our programs produce each semester.
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