HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A report introduced today in a joint Legislative Budget & Finance Committee (LBFC) hearing recommends measures the state could take to expand community college services in rural counties, but community college officials argue that many of the report's recommendations are already being implemented.
"We are encouraged that policymakers are having conversations that center around expanding the vital services community colleges provide," said Diane Bosak, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, the nonprofit entity that represents the legislative interests of the state's 14 community colleges. "We support the idea of finding ways to expand and enhance our services but fear that many of the recommendations in the report are repetitive to statutes that already exist and may not the best use of the state's limited funds."
The recommendations are the result of a resolution sponsored by Senator Scarnati (R-25) that called for the LBFC to study ways to "improve the delivery of open admissions and affordable high-quality community and technical education" in rural areas.
The report calls for the establishment of a state community college, to be affiliated with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), that would include multiple campuses or learning centers in rural areas of the state.
The proposed "state community college" would be funded through a separate appropriation to PASSHE and would be in addition to the existing 14 community colleges throughout the state.
"Creating another state supported entity when these services are already being provided through our current community college structure seems redundant, especially at a time of drastic funding cuts for existing educational institutions," Bosak said. "The state must respond to the need for increased workforce training and higher education in the most cost effective manner possible. They can do this by continuing to support and expand the already existing community college structure in which the commonwealth has already made strategic investments."
Bosak noted that there are already mechanisms in place for the community colleges to reach students in rural communities.
In areas where a community college campus may not exist, counties have the option to join with an existing Pennsylvania community college and form arrangements to offer services. The State Department of Education and the State Board of Education are already instrumental in that process.
A total of 46,568 credit students were served by satellite campuses in 2010-11 -- more than one out of every five community college students.
For example, through satellite campuses, Northampton Community College serves students in Monroe County, Westmoreland County Community College serves Indiana and Fayette counties, Delaware County Community College serves Chester County, Lehigh Carbon Community College serves Schuylkill County and Butler County Community College serves Mercer and Lawrence counties.
In addition, all 14 community colleges offer online education options that reach students in each of the 67 counties.
Community college officials agree that more could be done to expand their capacity and reach more students. The state's original model for community colleges proposed for 28 colleges to be established within easy access to all residents. Unfortunately, the current local sponsorship funding structure for community colleges has been a major deterrent.
"A meaningful commitment of local resources by a local sponsor needs to be in place for a new institution to function and thrive, but due to economic hardship at the county levels, local sponsorships have not been able to fund community colleges in other parts of the state," Bosak said.
"Our number 1 priority is making sure that our community colleges provide the most responsive, affordable and accessible option to educate the 500,000 students who enroll at our campuses every year. We welcome the opportunity for Sen. Scarnati and members of the LBFC to meet with community college officials and discuss more effective ways to finance our institutions and expand our reach while remaining affordable."
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.
Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges include: Community College of Allegheny County, Community College of Beaver County, Community College of Philadelphia, Bucks County Community College, Butler County Community College, Delaware County Community College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Luzerne County Community College, Montgomery County Community College, Northampton Community College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, Reading Area Community College and Westmoreland County Community College.
Jamie Yates, Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges
SOURCE Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges