COVER STORY | By M.G. Angulo –
The trajectory of Katy becoming a game-changing, influential educational hub is undeniably clear, if the growth and goals of Houston Community College’s (HCC) Northwest College are any indications. And there is evidence, to be sure.
The city is already home to Katy ISD, one of the most acclaimed school districts in the state, and now, Houston Community College Northwest is partnering with the University of Houston (UH) at Katy for an educational effort that one former Texas representative calls “a strong contribution to the community.”
“I can’t say enough about the educational opportunities Houston Community College offers,” said former Texas Representative Bill Callegari.
HCC Northwest is one of six colleges within the Houston Community College District and serves several communities, including Katy, where it is now constructing a new campus. “It allows so many people who would otherwise not have been able to have access to a college education,” Callegari added. “HCC Northwest creates an opportunity for people who want to start over and find something new. It helps people do the things they thought they couldn’t.
“I really can’t say enough. But I can say this: a community is only as good as its educational system.”
An Investment in Students and the Community
When Callegari and his wife, Ann, moved to Katy 50 years ago, Callegari found ways to serve the community through civic and professional organizations and local chambers of commerce. It was during this period of service — as a member of the Katy ISD school board in the mid-80s — that Callegari received his first inkling of the educational potential in Katy.
That introduction came by way of the late Mary Alice Wills, an educator, historian and author who also served on the Katy ISD School Board as a trustee and then later as its president. For the last 25 years of her life, however, Wills was a Houston Community College Northwest instructor, academic dean and then dual credit coordinator. “She promoted HCC Northwest well,” Callegari recalled. “Particularly items that made it possible for high school students to get college credit during their high school career.”
And that opportunity — the partnership between HCC Northwest and Katy ISD — allowed students to graduate with an associate’s degree from HCC Northwest on the same day as their high school graduation. Efforts such as these, Callegari said, are how education becomes “an investment in the students, of course, but also the community.” Katy is the prime example of that.
One only needs to look at the fact that Houston Community College celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Callegari emphasized. “HCC has accomplished a lot, and celebrating 50 years speaks well to what the college has done and how far it has come.”
And, he added, with leaders like HCC Northwest President Zachary Hodges, Houston Community College Northwest has a promising path left to go.
Callegari, who said he has been “a fan and a supporter of Hodges for a very long time,” shared memories from their time as members of a local chamber of commerce years ago, as well as his current work on an advisory committee Hodges created. “I’ve been a member since early on,” Callegari said of HCC Northwest’s Business and Community Steering Committee, which meets once a month to discuss high education opportunities or challenges. “The committee works closely with the Katy Area Economic Development Council, Katy Area Chamber of Commerce and Katy Business Association and includes owners, community leaders, business professional and faculty as members,” said Chairman of the Business Steering Committee Walt Sass.
The group, he summarized, is a “diversified cross-section of the local community actively pursuing cost-effective, innovative and career readiness learning alternatives available for our local population, both young and old. HCC is an immeasurable benefit to the Katy Community,” Sass added. “It has provided quality education for the past 50 years, and we hope that they continue strong for many more years to come.”
A Powerful Partnership
Ask anyone involved, especially HCC Northwest President Zachary Hodges: HCC Northwest is transcending expectations.
Since the 1990s, households have tripled in the Katy area, and “we’re moving with the population,” Hodges said. Hodges has been involved with Houston Community College for 40 years, and the last 26 of them as president of HCC Northwest. And, as the Greater Houston area continued to advance, so did Houston Community College. “People have continued to learn, and they are returning to college to learn new software and skills, and change careers,” Hodges shared. “Houston Community College provides a lifelong learning opportunity, which is critical for us all.”
Houston Community College has served Katy since 1979, and it has a “long history of moving our campuses west,” Hodges said. The first campus to serve Katy opened 25 years ago at Fry Road and Park Road. Now the college announced its new Katy facility set to open in Spring 2022.
The new campus will sit on a 24-acre tract of land at Colonial Parkway and the Grand Parkway, and the most advantageous feature of the campus, Hodges noted, is that it will sit directly across from the University of Houston at Katy. The proximity of the campuses was not by happenstance, Hodges explained. The co-location is part of a partnership between HCC Northwest and UH at Katy.
Just like its collaboration with Katy ISD, this co-location partnership provides students with a head start in their college career by allowing them to enroll in and complete their first two years of basic courses at HCC Northwest. Following the freshman and sophomore years, they can finish their studies at the UH at Katy campus across the street.
“Students can start their education in Katy and complete it in Katy,” Hodges said. “And they can get a head start on their college degree and save a lot of money.”
But it is not just students who benefit from the cooperation between HCC Northwest and the UH at Katy, Hodges stressed. “Any business and industry coming to the Katy area can see what kind of professional workforce training in the area and the employees we instruct,” he said, explaining that premier workforce training begins in the Katy ISD and continues through completion at UH at Katy.
Because of the partnership with UH at Katy, HCC Northwest’s student enrollment is projected to be more than 7,000 within five years of opening. “Higher education is a key part of the infrastructure and quality of life in the Katy area. It contributes to upward mobility.” This is why the opening of the new Katy campus is exciting, Hodges said.
Not only will the campus be larger, and therefore be able to educate a swelling student population, it will offer programs and courses that give graduates a competitive edge. “HCC Northwest is nothing like the old concept of a junior college,” Hodges said. “We provide access and opportunity.”
Creating a Pipeline
HCC Northwest offers computer science courses, such as advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and digital information systems, which are all ideal for students who want to step into the workforce immediately. The campus also offers an agriculture and horticulture program, business courses, as well as an advantageous engineering academy that allows students to be jointly enrolled in HCC Northwest and UH at Katy.
Houston Community College students have two options for securing an engineering degree from the University of Houston. They can take the traditional route of completing an ASES degree at HCC Northwest and transferring to the University of Houston. Or, students can enroll in the UH/HCC Engineering Academy. Houston Community College offers only one other such academy, and it is located at the Fraga Eastside campus.
“At the new Katy facility, the University of Houston and HCC Engineering Academy program allows students to take their core curriculum at HCC, and their engineering classes next door at UH at Katy, while being officially enrolled as a UH Cougar from day one,” said committee chairman Sass, who is a partner with Weisser Engineering & Surveying, a civil engineering and land surveying firm based in the West Houston/Katy area. “The cost savings and flexibility of this program is a tremendous benefit to the student,” he said, adding that he, too, took classes at Houston Community College.
Sass added that most of his children and grandchildren attended Katy ISD schools and then enrolled in Houston Community College in some capacity through the years. “HCC Northwest is valuable,” Callegari said. “It helps propel future and further advances the community.”
Hodges agreed. “This is a strong and unique partnership we have in this community,” he said. “And through it, we’re creating a pipeline from kindergarten to a bachelor’s degree.”
For more information about the new Houston Community College in Katy, visit hccs.edu/newkatycampus