Governor's Budget Gives Community Colleges New Tools to Help Students and Unemployed Workers; Builds PA Economy

Feb 04, 2009, 10:53 ET from Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges

HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Rendell today proposed several new initiatives to ease the tuition burden at Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges and help students of all ages and unemployed workers enhance existing skills, develop new ones and help build Pennsylvania's economy.

"The Governor's budget proposals recognize the increasingly important role of community colleges in the lives of Pennsylvanians and in our communities," stated Delaware County Community College President Jerry Parker, in response to the budget announcement. "But this is not a budget about our colleges. It is more importantly a budget about opportunity for Pennsylvania's students and families," further commented Dr. Parker.

Community colleges continue to play a vital role in meeting workforce education and training needs in Pennsylvania. However, during this current economic downturn, students and families are forced to make drastic decisions whether or not they can afford to attend college, or remain once enrolled. With Pennsylvania being one of the most costly states for college -- nationally ranking the sixth, most-expensive state for public college education -- Governor Rendell has taken a "bold step in making public higher education more affordable and accessible to all residents," added Dr. Parker. Jerry Parker is Vice President of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges in addition to serving as President of Delaware.

Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges President, Dr. Joe Forrester states, "In recognizing the even greater need for investments in our citizens and their education, despite the difficult economic times, the Governor's proposals will have a strategic impact on the Commonwealth's economic recovery now. These investments will also enable community colleges to continue preparing Pennsylvanians for jobs critical to the Commonwealth's future economic viability and competitiveness in key businesses and industries."

The governor has proposed $10 million in grants for new community college students. Dr. Forrester, who is also the President of the Community College of Beaver County, believes "this funding is crucial to those that traditionally have faced significant barriers to academic success, including students of color and low-income students as well as first-generation students." He added, "Our colleges have been involved in the national Achieving the Dream initiative recently recognized by the Gates Foundation which focuses on increasing the number of students who earn degrees, certificates or transfer to baccalaureate institutions. These grants can aid more community college students persist and succeed."

Additionally, Gov. Rendell's proposal includes a Tuition Relief Act, which would apply to families earning less than $100,000 a year and provide up to $7,600 to pay for college tuition, fees, books, and room and board. This Act would apply to students beginning college in the fall of this year, not continuing students. When the program is fully phased in over four years, state officials estimate that 10,000 students who would not otherwise have been able to attend a community college will have been helped.

The state's 14 community colleges are in line to receive an increase in operating funding under the proposed plan. Dr. Forrester adds, "The budget addresses not only the pressing demands of upward enrollment trends at the colleges, but also the valuable work of community colleges in preparing the workforce through high cost and high demand programs with the proposed funding increase."

Pennsylvania community colleges continue to see increasing enrollment numbers, boasting an estimated total enrollment (credit and noncredit) of 415,000 in 2008-2009. Pennsylvania's community colleges have seen a 4.5% increase in enrollment this past fall and spring enrollment could exceed a 7.5% increase. The 14 community colleges are also doing their part to help workers who have been displaced by the economic recession. Free tuition programs have been instituted at the colleges and initial demand is overwhelming. Within the state, there are industries still in need of workers and these free tuition programs enable the community colleges to assist these displaced workers as well as meet the demands of employers.

"It is the hope of community college leaders that these proposed plans may begin to ease the burden on community college students and families with the ever-increasing cost of tuition, fees, books, etc. and may open a new door of possibilities for those whose goal it is to obtain a college education during tough economic times," expressed Dr. Forrester.

CONTACT: Kelly Houtz, Director of Communications of PA Commission for Community Colleges, +1-717-232-7584,

SOURCE Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges