Pennsylvania’s community colleges today joined state lawmakers to announce new legislation that would analyze the sustainability of the community college model to ensure the institutions remain affordable.
The Pennsylvania Affordability Community College Task Force, or SB360, introduced by Senator Bob Mensch (R-29) was unanimously approved last month by the Senate Education Committee.
The legislation would create a task force to examine and make recommendations regarding the viability and sustainability of the current community college funding model, accessibility of community college services across the commonwealth and the long-term affordability and accessibility of a community college education.
“For 50 years, Pennsylvania’s community colleges have battled through and responded to changes in the higher education landscape, workforce and economic changes, financial hurdles and most recently a recession that brought more students than ever before to our doors,” said Dr. Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and president of the Commission for Community Colleges. “We’ve done all of this while staying true to our mission of our open-door policy, ensuring that anyone who desires to pursue a postsecondary education can afford to do so.”
However, declining state and local support, which the colleges rely on to ensure a community college education remains affordable, are putting the colleges’ open-door policy at risk.
Dr. Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, explained that when the community college model was created 50 years ago, it included a funding formula that would equally distribute the cost of a community college education in thirds: 1/3 contribution from the state, 1/3 contribution from local sponsors and 1/3 contribution from the student.
“As a result of the unpredictability of state and local support—especially in recent years—too much of the financial burden has shifted to the students,” Dr. Stout said. “It’s time to take a closer look at how community colleges in this state are funded and find a more predictable path that allows us to meet the demands of the 500,000 enrollees in our colleges while maintaining our affordability and exceptional quality.”
Despite state and local support that is not keeping pace with demand for community college services, the colleges have kept tuition affordable for students. However, the colleges fear they are at a tipping point.
“In shifting the burden of financing a postsecondary education primarily to students, we risk shutting out the very students we were founded to serve. The social and economic costs of shutting off access to thousands of Pennsylvanians will hurt the commonwealth’s long-term workforce competitiveness and the quality of life of our communities.”
“Community colleges are a vital component of the commonwealth’s workforce development continuum. They are a unique link between a student and the workplace in how responsive and flexible they can be in addressing the educational needs of a local community. We need to ensure their vitality within communities and their ability to grow local workforces. That is why I have introduced legislation, Senate Bill 360, that aims to take a serious look at how funding changes—both at the state and local level—could affect the affordability of a community college education,” said Senator Mensch.
Representative Jim Marshall (R-14) will introduce the legislation in the House this session.
The community colleges, together with Senator Lisa Boscola (D-18), also announced the formation of the Community College Caucus. The bi-partisan legislative partnership will help to ensure that the good work of community colleges is being shared with the legislature and assistance is provided when needed and when possible. Representatives from each community college district, on both sides of the aisle, have committed to joining the caucus.
“The economy is continuing to change, and the types of jobs available and the skills needed for those jobs are also changing,” said Senator Boscola, co-chair of the caucus. “Community colleges fill such an important role in this jobs and skills connection in addition to providing a launching pad for students to begin their education; particularly as an affordable pathway to the baccalaureate. These are the primary reasons why I have agreed to co-chair the Community College Caucus and why I believe it is more important than ever for the commonwealth to support our 14 community colleges.”
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