KNCT-TV was the sole PBS station in the Waco-Killeen-Temple area when it first went live November 1970. The closest PBS affiliate was in College Station in Texas A&M’s KAMU-TV.
Central Texas College Chancellor Jim Yeonopolus called it a big deal to add another option to the mere handful of channels available back then.
Nowadays, that big deal has a hard time competing with hundreds of channels on TV, online and other modes of modern media.
Funds for KNCT have run dry, according to school officials.
The station will eventually cease operations after CTC’s Board of Trustees decided Feb. 27 not to make a costly move from channel 46 to channel 17, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. A shutdown date has not yet been announced.
Board members Don Armstrong and Mari Meyer opposed rescinding the repack — or move — of KNCT from channel 46 to channel 17. The move was initially approved by the board at a meeting in April 2017.
Waves of disappointment from fans of the TV station and community members have spurred questions of how the school’s budget is doled out throughout the college. Many of these questions, according to CTC officials, are a consequence of not understanding how community colleges operate in Texas.
Was a KNCT shutdown a matter of if, or when? To Yeonopolus, its shutdown was inevitable.
“KNCT never failed. What happened was it outlived its time,” Yeonopolus said. “Time passed it. The technology has passed it.”
When making the decision to move channels in 2017, CTC expected the FCC to reimburse the college for the $4.4 million cost of moving the KNCT channel.
In the months that followed, CTC learned the U.S. Congress had authorized a reimbursement of only 60 percent of the cost, leaving CTC with expenses of $1.76 million to complete the mandated change.
The TV station has incurred an average annual loss of $418,000 over the past five years, according to school officials.
Scraping for funds to keep KNCT afloat is wasted effort that could go toward more practical programming, Yeonopolus said. Because the college functions as one unit instead of in separate programs like a four-year university, all programs have to support one another.
Yeonopolus depicts an industry ruled by automation when describing modern media. With industry advances in mind, the radio, television and film program at CTC has been revamped in lieu of investing in a KNCT that doesn’t adequately prepare students.
“To have a program where you train people to do sets lights and makeup ... all it did was prepare students in that program for a minimum wage job,” he said.
The three biggest sources of KNCT funding are grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, donations and general contributions from CTC, according to spokeswoman Barbara Merlo. Merlo said they did not have figures for the amounts. More CTC financial information will be available when the financial administrators return March 19 after spring break.
The school pays for KNCT funding, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting gives them money. But in the current environment, Merlo said, those grants are never a safe bet.
Viewer donations, in reality, are actually a very small piece of the pie for KNCT, according to Merlo. CTC contributions pick up the slack, costing the college even more money.
Picking up slack adds to Yeonopolus’ annual challenge of reeling in ample funding from the state for the community college.
CTC officials cite relatively low retention and completion rate compared to larger, four-year universities. At CTC, students have the option of enrolling for just one course and leaving after one term. Such habits make for paltry numbers when state funding is being allocated, and community colleges often get the short-end of the stick, according to Yeonopolus.
“The metrics that measure a community college are the same metrics that measure the four-years,” Yeonopolus said. “That’s a problem.”
Students not necessarily ready for college classes who ultimately decide to drop out affect retention rate too. Community colleges with an enrollment policy of accepting anyone, regardless of academics, has caused retention rate to take a hit, according to Merlo.
“We don’t turn anybody away. That means the majority of our students need some form of developmental education,” Merlo said.
Yeonopolus also said student population has decreased, largely in part from the military downsizing, resulting in fewer soldiers stationed at Fort Hood who are interested in taking classes.
Changes in military tuition assistance policies in the last five years has affected enrollment as well. Soldiers must be in the Army at least a year before the Army starts to assist them with tuition.
“They’ve tightened them down so much the students have a hard time using them,” Yeonopolus said.
College officials want to make clear the college is not shutting down KNCT to take money from the program. KNCT money doesn’t exist to invest in other programs, according to officials.
Yeonopolus said there are only two options to raise money for such programming: raising tuition or raising taxes.
In favor of affordability, CTC is interested in neither.
“If you try to keep it, you hurt the other programs,” Yeonopolus said. “This college belongs to the community. We try to do the best we can, and we try to make it affordable.”