Community Colleges Rally for Increased State Support, Celebrate 50th Anniversary
HARRISBURG, Pa., April 9, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Community college supporters joined today at the State Capitol in Harrisburg to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Community College Act in Pennsylvania, or Act 484 of 1963, and to tell state lawmakers that years of limited state support is pushing the colleges to their limit, risking the half-century-old mission of the institutions to provide affordable, quality higher education.
Governor Corbett's 2013-14 budget proposal calls for flat funding for all of higher education, including community colleges. Despite strong demand for their services, the colleges have only seen one modest increase in their state appropriation in the past five years. The lack of state support is compounded by funding decreases from local sponsors and years of increased demand from students and local employers.
"When troubling economic times caused employers to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers in the commonwealth, we found ways not only to remain affordable but in many cases to also provide free training to help Pennsylvanians get back on their feet with a quality education and upgraded skills," Dr. Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, said in his remarks. "Pennsylvania's community colleges are proud to have served this commonwealth for the past 50 years, but increased demand of our colleges with lagging support from our state and local partners are pushing our institutions to the limit," Dr. Johnson said.
In the years since the start of the Great Recession, 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. In the 2011-12 academic year, the colleges served nearly 430,000 students—the largest undergraduate population in Pennsylvania public higher education.
The colleges are seeking an increase of $14 million in the 2013-14 commonwealth budget. The additional dollars will help to expand programs and courses to Pennsylvanians who are seeking an affordable pathway to the baccalaureate or the skills to re-enter the workforce.
The increased investment would also help to move significant capital 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 appropriation for capital needs is already obligated to ongoing projects so no new projects can begin.
Michael J. D'Aniello, an alumnus and trustee from Montgomery County Community College, cautioned that while reducing access and affordability is the last resort, years of limited state and local funding leave the colleges with little room to further cut costs without impacting student access, instructional quality and the variety of programs that serve students, local employers and communities.
"We know that any tuition increase has the potential to shut out students for whom a community college education is the only postsecondary option. Tuition increases are always a last option for our colleges, but in some cases they are necessary, absent strong public investment in our missions, to preserve and develop quality programs and services that our students and communities need to remain competitive in the workforce and thriving as citizens," D'Aniello said.
For the past 50 years, the community colleges have provided over 3 million Pennsylvanians with an affordable, quality higher education choice. 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