HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Monday, advocates, lawmakers and students highlighted the importance of an affordable community college education in Pennsylvania.
“We can continue to help Pennsylvania solve its worker shortage crisis. Pennsylvania’s community colleges are the largest provider of postsecondary education and workforce training in the state,” said Dr. Tuesday Stanley, President of Westmoreland County Community College.
“Community colleges provide the necessary opportunity for students, like myself, to affordably and accessibly attain a higher degree of education and pursue their academic dreams,” said Emma Hope, a student at Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC). “My goal was to graduate from college debt free, and attending community college was the best first step to achieve that goal,” she added.
Hope says attending LCCC was the best decision she ever made for multiple reasons.
“There’s a place for everyone to belong, which I found extremely valuable,” said Hope. “It is obvious that they all share a similar desire to see their students succeed in not only their academics, but more importantly, their lives. They continuously go above and beyond for their students more than anyone could imagine,” Hope added.
But going above and beyond for their 230,000 students, like Emma, is a growing challenge for Pennsylvania community colleges.
“We are underfunded,” said Dr. Stanley. “It threatens affordability for our students. It threatens our ability to modernize our facilities, which threatens Pennsylvania’s economic vitality,” she added.
“There are a number of challenges facing the colleges, but the most significant is the chronic underfunding of higher education in the Commonwealth. They are public entities and so they rely heavily on public funding to do the work that they do in their communities, to support their regional economies and to support their local employers,” said Elizabth Bolden, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC).
According to PACCC, over the past seven years, their colleges have seen the second-to-lowest cumulative growth in state spending for public education institutions.
Bolden hopes to change that in this year’s budget.
“With more funding, they can do more of the good work that people are hearing about today at the Capitol,” said Bolden.
Governor Josh Shapiro is proposing a two percent funding increase of just over $5 million for Pennsylvania’s fifteen community colleges. Advocates are grateful for the slight increase, but say more is needed.
“We are very, very grateful for that increase. But, for Pennsylvania to truly address its workforce shortages, provide greater opportunities for students, meet the needs of employers and strengthen its economy, then the state’s increase for community colleges must be more than two percent,” said Dr. Stanley.
The community colleges’ state budget request for fiscal year 2023-24 includes a 25 percent operating appropriation increase, roughly $64 million, and a 15 percent capital appropriation increase, or $8 million.
Bolden says the funding for community colleges is essential to the Commonwealth’s economic health and vitality. She says it can also provide lifechanging opportunities for families across the state.
“Lifechanging opportunities to gain a credential or a workforce skill that can help families earn family-sustaining wages,” said Bolden.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers from both chambers spoke at today’s press event to express their support for community colleges.