Community colleges discuss workforce, upgrade needs, and dual enrollment programs at PA House budget hearing
Presidents from the PACCC, Montgomery CC, and WCCC answered lawmakers pressing questions, especially about what they would do with more money if appropriated
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On March 22nd, 2023, presidents of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC), Montgomery County Community College, and Westmoreland Community College appeared before the House Appropriations Committee and answered questions about the workforce, students interested in pursuing a four-year program, costs of maintenance, needed upgrades, and dual enrollment programs.
AL DÍA covered the Pennsylvania House budget hearing; here are the highlights shared by local higher education institution presidents and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Dan Greenstein.
Under Gov. Shapiro’s budget proposal, PASSHE would receive $563.5 million, a 2% increase totaling approximately $11 million. However, PASSHE’s chancellor, Dr. Daniel Greenstein, says the system needs a 3.8% increase, plus an additional $112 million for students entering high-need programs. This budget request would freeze tuition and produce graduates in high-demand professions— without the additional funding, PASSHE would need to raise tuition.
In order to make tuition costs more affordable, the consolidations allowed PASSHE to cut $300 million in operational costs in three years while freezing tuition in the last four years.
“Across Pennsylvania, communities need more healthcare workers to provide care, teachers to educate our children, engineers to improve our infrastructure, social workers to improve lives, and computer scientists to enhance and secure our digital world,” Dr. Greenstein said. “Those needs match PASSHE’s strengths, and we’re ready to partner with the state to propel students into rewarding jobs that provide economic security for families and meet the needs of the marketplace.”
Community Colleges budget hearing
Rep. Marci Mustello asked community colleges: Westmoreland Community College, Montgomery Community College, and PACCC how they plan to spend the 2% increase from the previous year's budget proposal and what they could do with more money if appropriated.
Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal includes a $5.1 million increase to be split among the state’s 15 public community colleges, a total of $261.6 million.
“The governor did provide a 2% operating increase for the colleges and we are extremely grateful for that,” said Elizabeth Bolden, president, and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “That’s because for many years that number has been zero and 2% is greater than zero.”
The largest of the state’s community colleges will receive $700,000 more. Also, the budget includes $54.1 million to help higher education institutions address building, technology, and information management needs.
“Community colleges really touch every community and every family in the Commonwealth, and it’s important as lawmakers go through this budget process that they make decisions that will support the commonwealth and help it to grow,” said Bolden.
However, community colleges asked for a 15% increase to modernize facilities and provide mental health support for students. Bolden added that community colleges will find creative ways to manage the budget. Westmoreland will be receiving about $170,000, which President Obara says “leaves me with, right now, I have a 2.5 million gap that I have to close for the next fiscal year, and so because 70% of our budget is personal because we are a service industry, it leaves me with having to at my staffing levels and what’s appropriated in that realm.”
Rep. Kristin Marcell mentioned she is sponsoring legislation that would allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees, especially in nursing.
“What I think states are seeing is that a community college baccalaureate is a way not just to fill workforce needs but to address the affordability crisis of higher education and to provide access for under-represented populations,” said Bolden, adding that 24 states already grant community colleges to issue bachelor degrees, with 12 allowed to award bachelor’s in nursing to address the workforce shortages.
House Republican Key Takeaways: community colleges
- Community colleges provide affordable options to students, especially those seeking to join the workforce. House Republicans believe funding these programs is essential to a healthy economy.
- House Republicans support efforts of Community Colleges to provide a clear pathway for students to advance their education through the easy transfer of credits to a four-year college or university.
Source: PA House Republican Caucus