Enrollment Surges at Pennsylvania's Community Colleges

Sep 30, 2009, 09:35 ET from Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the fall semester well underway, Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges opened their doors to more than 13,000 new students -- the equivalent of one entire new community college in Pennsylvania. This number represents a historic high and corresponds with a 10% increase on average over last fall's enrollment. The surge does not reflect the growing number of students in noncredit programs who are seeking to enhance specific skills for entry or re-entry into the job market. Total credit and noncredit enrollment across the community colleges is rapidly approaching a half-million Pennsylvanians.

As community college leaders gathered in Harrisburg last week to consider the impact of surging enrollments and the current state budget situation, presidents and trustees of the 14 colleges shared ideas for meeting these challenges. "As open admissions institutions, community colleges attempt to serve every student who enters our doors," said Dr. Jerry Parker, President of Delaware County Community College and President of the PA Commission for Community Colleges. President Parker added that, "this will become increasingly difficult if we cannot find ways to add courses and programs in spite of an infrastructure that is at or beyond capacity."

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, author of the recent report from the Brookings Institute on transforming community colleges, shared her perspectives with the group. The Brookings report calls for an increased federal investment in the nation's community colleges which will move the nation toward the goal of increasing college (two-year and four-year) completion rates. Goldrick-Rab noted that the enrollment growth nationally in the two-year sector is outpacing that in the four-year sector (43% to 24% over the last two decades). Yet, data shows, according to Goldrick-Rab, that the nation spends less on community colleges than on high schools on a per student basis.

Presidents and Trustees are watching the developments around the state budget in Harrisburg over the next several days with a cautious eye toward being able to meet the ongoing enrollment surge and the longer term issues of state support. Over the last several years, the appropriations increases for community colleges have not kept pace with inflation in higher education; and, during a period of exceptional enrollment growth, the consequence has been erosion in the Commonwealth's level of support for our students. This has resulted in a shifting of the cost burden to students, many from low income families, who are unable to bear such costs.

"The reality is that we will not be able to sustain the rates of growth we are experiencing without a significant increase in assistance from the state, particularly given our role as the principal option for students to access affordable higher education and job training," stated John Biondi, Trustee, Community College of Beaver County, and Secretary of the PA Commission for Community Colleges.

President Parker echoed the sentiment of the community college leaders by adding, "If Pennsylvania wants to be at the front of an economic recovery -- not at the rear, the state's support of training and education in high priority and emerging industries, through our community colleges, must be a strategic investment today."

The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to represent the interests of the 14 community colleges of Pennsylvania. For more information on the Commission and its programs, please visit its website at www.pacommunitycolleges.org.

CONTACT: Kelly Houtz of Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, +1-717-232-7584, khoutz@pacommunitycolleges.org

SOURCE Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges