Keep Austin Wonky interviews Stephanie Gharakhanian, candidate for Place 8 on the Austin Community College Board of Trustees.
Thank you for taking the time to discuss your candidacy with Keep Austin Wonky. First question: why are you running to serve on the ACC Board of Trustees?
I believe that all people should have the opportunity to work at a good job and earn a decent living. I believe in building a society where every person that studies hard can attend college without going into debt. After talking to many community leaders, I became convinced there was an opportunity to help strengthen ACC’s role in supporting that version of society.
My professional career has been about standing up for working people in Central Texas, and I think having a champion for working people as an ACC trustee will help make it a better institution.
What will be be the specific priorities you will work towards?
First, I want to make real progress in how we ensure student success. Many ACC students face obstacles that make it difficult for them to complete their coursework and and obtain their degree. ACC should continue to strengthen its academic advising program and adopt a holistic, individualized approach to student success. ACC serves students of all backgrounds and walks of life and should tailor its student support services to do the same. First generation college students, undocumented students, LGBTQI students, students who are single parents, students who are formerly incarcerated, students who are veterans, students who return to college at a later age — all face unique obstacles to completing their degree. ACC’s efforts to improve course completion and graduation rates must address the challenges that students face both inside the classroom and beyond.
Second, I will work to help make ACC more affordable. All people in Central Texas should be able to access high-quality education and workforce training from Austin Community College without taking on a mountain of debt. Unfortunately, the cost of attending ACC is still too high for many members of our community. If elected, I aim to meaningfully lower ACC’s tuition and fees. With federal and state support, I hope that we can eventually make ACC tuition-free.
Third, I will seek to expand affordable childcare options. Child care remains one of the largest expenses families face in raising children. The lack of sufficient, affordable child care options in Central Texas affects students, faculty, and staff alike. Many students are balancing school responsibilities with child care responsibilities at home. Providing affordable childcare to students will improve graduation rates, particularly for single women and women of color, which translates into higher incomes, better health, and improved educational outcomes for students’ children in the long-term.
Fourth, I will push for ACC to be a model employer. As one of the largest public employers in the region, ACC has the power to raise the floor for workers across Central Texas. ACC should provide all faculty and staff with living wages, basic benefits like earned paid sick time, and meaningful pathways for career advancement. As a steward of public resources, ACC should also hold contractors and vendors to the same employment standards that it sets for its own employees
Why should the typical Austinite that isn’t directly utilizing ACC care about the institution?
ACC plays a very important role in both keeping our region prosperous, as well as making sure that the prosperity is inclusive. Austin – and Central Texas – needs an affordable and well-functioning community college to fulfill their aspirations as great places to live and work.
What is the most surprising thing about ACC that the average Austinite doesn’t now?
It actually took four tries for the initial version of what became ACC to be approved by voters. Here’s a link where you can read the very interesting origins of our local community college system.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to discuss your candidacy.
Early Voting starts October 21st. Find your Travis County polling place here.