(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee on Monday heard from community college leaders on the importance of a 5% budget increase.
The collegial response from Republican and Democratic representatives looks like it won’t be hard to get the General Assembly to approve the funds.
Funding has been relatively flat in recent years and leaders are worried about the capital stock on campuses. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal would direct a $15 million increase for community colleges and its capital fund.
Rep. James Struzzi, R-Indiana, asked about the infrastructure projects the capital fund would support.
“There has not been an increase in that appropriation for several years, which means that there are no funds available for new projects, which is particularly problematic when you’re trying to keep up-to-date with equipment and you’re trying not to let your facilities fall into disrepair,” said Elizabeth Bolden, the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community colleges.
For concrete examples, Joy Gates Black, president of Delaware County Community College, described the difficulty some students have in reaching campus for classes, as well as building a child-care center to support students, a workforce training center, and expanding classroom space to cater to student demand.
Supporting projects for workforce training were a touchpoint for legislators. Rep. Ben Sanchez, D-Abington, asked for more information about how community colleges create local business partnerships.
“Community colleges are colleges of community, really inextricably tied to the communities we serve and to our employers,” said Mark Erickson, president of Northampton Community College. He pointed to weekly meetings with local employers and revising course offerings to ensure colleges teach the skills employers need, as well as adding company founders and leaders to their advisory boards.
“[Community colleges] can move so much more quickly and so much more agilely to meet industry needs than any other sector of higher ed,” Erickson said. “I think the key for higher ed moving forward is affordability and agility.”
In one way, the lack of funding compared to four-year institutions has benefited community colleges: a smaller bureaucracy means that they can change more easily.
Community colleges “are nimble, fast-moving institutions. They do not have the type of large bureaucracies that characterize some of our other higher education institutions in the state,” Bolden said.
However, leaders stressed that community colleges still need support, especially for building and equipment needs.
“It’s hard to evolve and change without investment,” Erickson said.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.