Hugo Ortega's namesake restaurant, Hugo's, has been lauded by local, regional and national media. Ortega, its head chef and co-owner, has an amazing story, thanks in part to Houston Community College.
The oldest of eight children, Ortega grew up in one of Mexico City's worst slums. He entered the U.S. illegally, and worked several jobs to rise from dishwasher to busboy and line cook at Backstreet Cafe. After going through the Culinary Arts program at HCC, Ortega was promoted to executive chef of the restaurant in 1995 and became a U.S. citizen the following year.
After going through the Culinary Arts program at HCC, Ortega was promoted to executive chef of the restaurant in 1995 and became a U.S. citizen the following year.
Today, in addition to running both Hugo's and Backstreet, Ortega is traveling the state promoting his book, Street Food of Mexico. But while he is one of the most well-known graduates of HCC, he's only one of thousands of former students now helping to keep Houston working.
A massive institution with some 75,000 students studying at campuses in Houston, Missouri City and Stafford, HCC is doing more than its share to build Houston's workforce. Eighty percent of its graduates stay in Houston, and 95 percent remain in Texas "to contribute to its economic impact," HCC Chancellor Mary Spangler said in her recent 2012 State of the College address at the Junior League of Houston.
Funding in peril
But while HCC has been helping build Houston's economy, the college itself now needs assistance: Since 2007, it has experienced a 40 percent increase in its student body, growing from an enrollment of 50,000 to an astounding 75,000. With so many students flocking to the community college, it's running out of space, among other things.
HCC Coleman College for Health Sciences, for instance, was originally built in 2004 to accommodate just 1,500 students. Today, HCC Coleman College has 3,500 enrolled and — at a time when the medical industry is facing a significant nursing shortage — it must turn away nine of ten nursing students.
To solve the problem, HCC is asking voters to approve a $425 million bond referendum in the upcoming election, a measure that includes construction of a new Texas Medical Center building for Coleman College.
To solve the problem, HCC is asking voters to approve a $425 million bond referendum in the upcoming election.
In addition to the astronomical growth, HCC has seen state funding decrease by $64 million over the last two years, with further increases expected. The college averages just 53 square feet per student in the classroom, only 66 percent of the national average of 80 square feet per student. Its classrooms and labs need to be upgraded with the latest technology.
The bond issue will provide each HCC campus with new or renovated facilities and the technology to meet student needs, especially in high-demand areas like health sciences, technology, engineering and math education.
"We must have a skilled, trained workforce to compete in the 21st century global economy," Spangler said in her Junior League speech. "The future of our city is our responsibility to fashion and create."
To do that — and to keep turning out graduates like chef Hugo Ortega — HCC needs financial help. Spangler hopes voters will agree and vote for the bond referendum in the election on Nov. 6.