OP-ED: Benefits of a properly funded community colleges
95th Legislative District
Community colleges offer an affordable higher education opportunity for traditional and non-traditional students pursuing associate degrees, diplomas, certifications, workforce training and/or professional development coursework online or at a local campus.
Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges play a vital role in educating many Pennsylvania students for a variety of current and emerging careers. In fact, there are more than 400,000 people currently enrolled in community colleges across the Commonwealth.
Over the past several months, we have heard a lot about the significant education funding cuts made in recent years. The primary focus of that attention has often been centered on the cuts to basic education funding in the K-12 system. Often overlooked has been the disinvestment in community colleges and higher education as a whole. Ultimately, a price has been paid for this disinvestment across our Commonwealth.
Since these institutions are economic engines for our state, I strongly support Gov. Tom Wolf's proposal to invest considerably in our community colleges as part of his overall education budget proposal.
Gov. Wolf has very clearly and consistently made the entire spectrum of education a primary focus and concern of his administration. Pennsylvania has watched this governor take office and travel the state to visit numerous community colleges, over 50 K-12 classrooms and school buildings, meeting students, faculty, administrators, parents and others along the way. He is most certainly walking the walk. Now the Legislature has to do its part and approve a budget that also includes sufficient funds for our community colleges.
Community colleges are an essential educational ingredient to Pennsylvania citizens, businesses and to our overall economy. The governor proposes an increase in community college investment of $15.7 million, taking total spending statewide to approximately $230 million. Even with this proposed 7 percent increase of $15.7 million, the total spending is still less than the 2010 budget year amount of $235 million. In 2011, the allocation for community colleges was cut back to $212 million.
As a result of that 2011 reduction, our community college enrollment and offerings have been reduced. Gov. Wolf's proposed increased investment of $15.7 million is a very modest amount in a total budget of approximately $31 billion. That would restore much of the prior funding cuts. Further, it would give community colleges some breathing room to worry less about austerity measures and more about investing in credit and noncredit classes and programs to better meet the needs of our changing community, economy and international business environment. It shows a clear commitment to enhancing community colleges' abilities across our commonwealth while making the wisest investment we can make — that of education at schools whose mission relies upon effectiveness, accessibility, affordability and efficiency in placing graduates in occupations paying livable wages.
Community colleges are in the educational trenches working daily to assist aspiring individuals — both employed and unemployed. This is not to diminish the work of our incredible fleet of traditional colleges and universities; but unlike some traditional institutions that rely upon attracting students from across Pennsylvania, the country or the globe, community college students are more likely to be our neighbors. These traditional and non-traditional students live in the community, are employed or seeking employment locally, at which, the income they earn contributes towards a healthy regional economy.
Take HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College, as an example. Many are surprised to learn that HACC is the oldest and largest community college in Pennsylvania, entering its 52nd year of operation, and the HACC-York campus is celebrating its 10th anniversary in serving our community. Importantly, it serves the highest percentage of diverse students of all the HACC campuses. Better yet, since 2007, HACC entered a partnership to provide dual enrollment courses and begin teaching "College in the High School" in many of York County's high schools and with a very strong presence in William Penn Senior High School in the York City School District. Dual Enrollment is a program that provides the ability for high school students to spend a portion of their school day taking college courses. Last year, 35 of William Penn's graduating students walked across the stage to accept their diploma with an average of 10 college credits ready to be transferred to HACC or most Pennsylvania institutions of higher education. Proudly, since it opened its doors in York County in 2005 the HACC York campus has served over 21,000 credit students. That's an impressive statistic that we should all celebrate.
Education truly is the best way our country, Commonwealth and communities can break the cycle of poverty and remain competitive globally.
Gov. Wolf has proposed a comprehensive education budget that covers the entire continuum of education from pre-K to higher ed and workforce development. In the words and spirit of Pennsylvania patriarch Benjamin Franklin, who also served as one of our earliest Speakers for the state's House of Representatives, "investment in knowledge always pays the best dividends."
— State Rep. Kevin Schreiber represents the 95th Legislative District.