In 2000, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board introduced a plan called “Closing the Gaps.” By 2015 this initiative was completed and established as a success. Despite the work that was completed in this plan, the state of Texas continues to struggle with meeting the needs of many sectors of our population.

Texas is ranked 13th in the U.S. on the number of people living in poverty while nearly 40 percent of African American and Hispanic children under the age of 5 live in poverty. Even with a low unemployment rate, Texas falls as the third in the U.S. on the number of adults working full-time but still living in poverty.

The National Skills Coalition reports that between the years of 2014 and 2024, 50% of job openings will require mid-level skills and these jobs account for 56% of the Texas labor market. In Texas, 43% of ACT-tested students from the class of 2017 reported being interested in STEM majors or career, yet only 24% were prepared for their first year of college in these careers.

Anyone that has traveled the London Underground is familiar with the warning people see, “mind the gap.” This phrase is warning people to watch the gap between the train and the platform and be careful not to fall. As students enter the world of higher education, we must be cognizant of the challenges of crossing over the threshold between high school and college.

Although we have closed many gaps for students, there still exists a large number who are unfamiliar, hesitant and out-and-out scared of college. The community college mission is grounded in assisting students who find the “gap” almost too wide to cross. We do so by supporting them as they matriculate through the corridors of higher education while trying to reach the correct final destination. Texas community colleges achieve this mission while maintaining the third-lowest tuition rates in the nation.

Since 1986 state appropriations for community colleges have decreased from 66% of their revenue in a given academic year to 23% on average. As many of us look forward to the opening of the NCTC Denton FSBExchange, we must realize that there are no state contributions to the construction of facilities for Texas community colleges. Community colleges are only funded through contact hours that students have with faculty in the classroom.

So while we continue to strive to “mind the gaps” by preparing students for university transfer and career and technical education, we continue to see a decrease in funds to assist.

Following “Closing the Gaps,” Texas has established its next initiative, the 60X30TX Plan. This plan has an overarching goal that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans age 25-34 will have a certificate or degree. This will be a heavy lift for community colleges, but we are ready! We are prepared to aid students in reaching their full potential. The future of our state depends on it.

Brent Wallace joined North Central Texas College in fall 2011 as the vice president of instruction/chief academic officer. He has served as chancellor and chief executive officer since 2014.