With Pennsylvania’s manufacturers saying their No. 1 issue is finding properly trained workers, a group of state lawmakers and officials from the state’s community colleges have joined forces to make sure that training is affordable to those who need it.
The Community College Affordability Caucus has announced new legislation that calls for an analysis of the sustainability of the community college model to ensure the institutions remain affordable.
“That’s important not only to students, but also to employers and to the overall state of the economy in Pennsylvania,” said Mark Erickson, president of Northampton Community College.
Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, explained that when the community college model was created 50 years ago, it included a funding formula that would equally distribute the cost of a community college education in thirds: 1/3 contribution from the state, 1/3 contribution from local sponsors and 1/3 contribution from the student.
“As a result of the unpredictability of state and local support — especially in recent years — too much of the financial burden has shifted to the students,” Stout said. “It’s time to take a closer look at how community colleges in this state are funded and find a more predictable path that allows us to meet the demands of the 500,000 enrollees in our colleges.”
State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, is co-chair of the bi-partisan caucus overseeing the task force.
“The economy is continuing to change, and the types of jobs available and the skills needed for those jobs are also changing,” Boscola said. “Community colleges fill such an important role in this jobs and skills connection in addition to providing a launching pad for students to begin their education. … I believe it is more important than ever for the commonwealth to support our 14 community colleges.”
She called community colleges a valuable resource to the state’s business community.
“They’re light on their feet and are quick to adapt to a business’ needs,” she said.
Ann Bieber, executive vice president of Lehigh Carbon Community College, emphasized that the goal of community colleges is to get individuals into skilled, family-supporting jobs as an alternative to needing public assistance. And, she said, to get people into the classroom the education needs to be affordable.
“We’re a part of the job track,” she said, noting that the schools help not only students graduating from high school and looking to enter the workforce, but displaced workers needing new skills or older workers that need updated skills.
The bill was introduced by State Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Bucks/Lehigh, and was unanimously approved last month by the Senate Education Committee.
“Community colleges are a vital component of the commonwealth’s workforce development continuum,” Mensch said. “They are a unique link between a student and the workplace in how responsive and flexible they can be in addressing the educational needs of a local community. We need to ensure their vitality within communities and their ability to grow local workforces.”