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Lehigh Valley Plastics President David Keim (left) shares details of his facilities' products with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (center).Photo: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor
About 400 students and supporters of Pennsylvania community colleges rallied on Tuesday at the state Capitol against the governor’s proposed budget, saying it fails to address the skills gap and will ultimately slow the state’s economic recovery.
In Gov. Tom Corbett’s fiscal year 2012-13 budget, funding for community colleges would be cut by about 5 percent and, for the fourth consecutive year, two-year colleges would not receive new dollars for capital funding, which is used to update labs, equipment and classrooms to train students for jobs.
“The cuts the governor is proposing for the colleges will have adverse effects on our students, our institutions and the commonwealth as a whole,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PCCC). “This state will not be able to sustain economic growth without an educated and trained workforce, and Pennsylvania’s community colleges are essential for getting people back to work and speeding up Pennsylvania’s recovery.”
Collectively, the 14 community colleges have a list of “shovel-ready” projects that exceeds $100 million, according to PCCC. The projects range from modernizing science labs to creating new learning environments to train and educate students for jobs in emerging and growing industries such as advanced manufacturing, energy and health care.
None of the projects would move under the governor’s proposal, PCCC said.
Helping hands are tied
Business leaders across the state say that their primary concern is having enough highly skilled workers to power their companies, and they are asking community colleges to design courses and curricula around their needs for workers, Johnson said. However, many colleges cannot meet those requests because of funding limits.
For example, state officials estimate that there will be nearly 7,000 annual job openings in the specialized healthcare industry. Five of Pennsylvania’s community colleges have been asked to develop or expand courses to train students to fill these jobs. But budget constraints have not allowed colleges to meet this need.
“As good as our colleges are in responding to our local employers and providing opportunities and pathways for our students, we cannot continue to do it all without the state as our partner,” said Johnson, who also serves on the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges.
Separate and unequal
Community college supporters also asked why the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and state-related universities are slated to receive significant new capital dollars under the governor’s budget to update their classrooms and equipment, but community colleges will not receive any new dollars.
The state budget secretary’s mid-year briefing highlighted the state’s commitment to PASSHE and state-related universities at $150 million of capital budget funding. In the governor’s proposed budget, he included a number of projects for these institutions—including $225 million for PASSHE universities and $70 million for the state-related universities.
“I speak on behalf of the 500,000 community colleges students across the state when I remind the governor that our institutions and our students have the same needs as our peers at Temple or Shippensburg (universities),” Johnson said. “Our buildings, too, need to be repaired, our equipment needs to be updated and our students deserve to be educated in classrooms with the appropriate and necessary technologies to prepare them for the workforce.”
PCCC and its member colleges are seeking $10 million in capital funding that would help launch the ready-to-go projects and other emergency projects. Two-year college advocates say the request is comparable to the amount the governor and his budget secretary want to provide to other state-funded institutions.
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