HARRISBURG, Pa., March 4, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Community college presidents said today during a House Appropriations budget hearing that Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges could be a key player in lessening the skills gap by getting people back to work, but the state's resources are failing to keep pace with demand putting access and affordability at risk.
Dr. Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges provided testimony. He was joined by Dr. Nick Neupauer, president of Butler County Community College and vice president of the Commission; Dr. Stephen Curtis, president of Community College of Philadelphia; and Dr. Jerry Parker, president of Delaware County Community College.
Under Governor Corbett's 2013-14 budget proposal, community colleges would receive no additional funding for their operating budgets or capital projects. The lack of state support is compounded by increased demand from students and local employers that the colleges continue to experience in response to the Great Recession and slow economic recovery.
In the years following the start of the Great Recession to the present, community colleges have seen their highest enrollments on record. At the peak, community colleges saw an increase of over 36,000 students during one academic year.
"Our colleges cannot continue to meet the needs of the commonwealth, our students and our communities without the state as our partner," said Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson noted that the 14 community colleges are currently serving more than 429,000 students through credit programs or in noncredit workforce development courses. In addition, the colleges serve 45,468 individuals through contracted training with—at most recent count—1,333 employers and an additional 19,266 workers through WEDnetPA.
"Despite limited state and local support, rising benefit and other support type costs and facilities that have long surpassed their capacity, our colleges have been remarkably resourceful and successful in serving increasing numbers of students while maintaining affordable tuition rates," he said.
He cautioned, however, that the colleges are left with little room to further reduce costs without impacting student access, instructional quality and the variety of programs that serve students, local employers and communities. He added that any tuition increase would put higher education out of reach for thousands of students.
Dr. Johnson cited steps the colleges have taken to curtail spending and maximize efficiencies. These changes have included restructuring health care, freezing salaries and leaving vacancies unfilled across the institutions.
The colleges are seeking an increase of $8 million in the 2013-14 commonwealth budget for operating needs and an increase of $6 million for capital projects. The increase in operating funding will help expand programs and courses to Pennsylvanians who are seeking an affordable pathway to the baccalaureate or the skills to re-enter the workforce. The capital funding will help to move significant projects forward.
Currently, the colleges report $104 million in shovel-ready projects ranging from retrofitting major science labs to new facilities for culinary and other growing programs and an additional $8 million in critical deferred maintenance and equipment needs. The current capital line item is already obligated to on-going projects so no new projects can begin without additional capital funding.
"We believe the importance of core state support of public higher education, and increased investment in it, has never been more critical than in the current slow economic recovery. Within the current constraints of policy and fiscal decisions, Pennsylvania cannot be competitive and attract new industries while growing existing businesses and encouraging entrepreneurship," Dr. Johnson said.
Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges serve students from every county of the state. The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges is a volunteer membership association for Pennsylvania's community colleges. Its members include the college presidents, members of colleges' boards of trustees, and key college administrators. The Commission represents the interests and advocates the collective needs of the community colleges to federal and state policymakers. For more information please visit www.pacommunitycolleges.org.
Jamie Yates, Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges
SOURCE Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges