(Harrisburg) Community college presidents today testified before the House Appropriations Committee that the Governor’s proposed budget unveiled last month risks putting higher education out of reach for students and will stifle the state’s recovery.
Dr. Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges; Dr. Nick Neupauer, president of Butler County Community College and vice president of the Commission; and Dr. Jim Linksz, president of Bucks County Community College provided testimony.
At the hearing, the presidents said that despite the Governor’s call for increased career training and his testament that a skilled workforce is essential to a strong economy, his fiscal year 2012-13 budget reduces community college budgets by an estimated 5 percent. Community colleges, they said, are the state’s first line of offense when it comes to training the workforce and rebuilding Pennsylvania’s economy.
Additional state support would relieve enrollment pressures and help meet workforce demand.
In prepared remarks, Dr. Johnson questioned the commonwealth’s vision of its future.
“The state cannot be competitive and attract new industries while growing existing businesses and encouraging entrepreneurship with the current budget constraints,” Dr. Johnson said. “We must think more boldly, more globally and look beyond short-term savings.”
Dr. Johnson pointed out that the proposed state support for FY 12-13 is below 1995-96 levels, while enrollment has grown by nearly 65,000 students in that same time period. Collectively, the colleges served almost a half-million students in the 2010-11 academic year.
“The irony of this erosion of state support comes at a time when the commonwealth and its residents need community colleges to be providing more, not less, in terms of programs and access,” Dr. Johnson said.
State funding that has not kept pace with student enrollment has forced many colleges to delay the implementation of new programs and reduce course offerings in fields such as welding, biotechnology, and environmental technologies, industries that are seeking qualified employees to fill job openings.
The colleges report over $100 million in shovel-ready capital needs that will help modernize science labs and create new learning environments for students to be trained in industries like natural resources in the Marcellus Shale region, advanced manufacturing, energy, and healthcare. However, under the Governor’s budget proposal, no new projects on community college campuses will be able to move forward. If enacted, FY 12-13 will mark the fourth year the colleges have not received new capital funding.
Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges requested an increase of $10 million in capital funding for FY 12-13. The request is comparable to the amount of new dollars the Governor and Budget Secretary Charles Zogby are providing for other higher education institutions in the upcoming fiscal year. The presidents also requested restoration of their operating budgets.
The presidents pointed out the important niche that community colleges serve in higher education.
“The median family income for students across all institutions is $26,058, while the state’s median family income stands at $49,288. There is no doubt that our institutions are clearly meeting a need that would otherwise go unfilled,” Dr. Johnson said.
In addition, over half of the students enrolled in a Pennsylvania community college receive financial aid; others are financing their college education on a shoestring budget while struggling to balance work and family burdens.
“Any tuition increase would put higher education out of reach for thousands of students,” Dr. Johnson said.
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.