Pa.’s community college have a crucial role to play in emerging from COVID-19 | Opinion

Students leave the Bonnell Building at the Community College of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Elizabeth A. Bolden

It has been more than two months since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in our Commonwealth. Since then, life has changed dramatically. Amplifying the stress of such drastic change are a myriad of remaining questions, such as if or when life will return to normal.

Fortunately, some things remain constant, even in times of great adversity. I believe one of those constants is the quality, affordable education and training programs offered by Pennsylvania community colleges and the many benefits the colleges offer their local communities and Pennsylvania as a whole.

Community colleges are flexible and agile institutions, designed to respond quickly to state, regional and local needs.

During this unprecedented global pandemic, Pennsylvania community colleges did what they have been doing for 50 years – they adapted instructional delivery methods, supported the communities they serve through donations, and launched newly-identified programs to meet workforce needs.

Yet, community colleges have not wavered from their public mission and core beliefs. All are still committed to their role as community anchors; offering quality, affordable education and training programs while maintaining crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, community services like daycares, free dental and health services, food pantries and cultural enrichment opportunities. Community colleges are also major employers, collectively employing nearly 25,000 individuals.

While some experts anticipate an enrollment disruption for higher education in the short-term, community college leaders recognize their institutions are one of the keys to Pennsylvania’s strong economic recovery. The student-centric model utilized by community colleges allows them to align local and state workforce needs with credit and non-credit workforce development programs and educational pathways. This flexibility is well-suited for a post-pandemic world.

Community colleges are not just engines of economic growth for state and regional economies, but also provide educational and workforce training that will allow Pennsylvanians to get back to work in family-sustaining careers.

As the 2019-2020 academic year draws to a close, our graduates prepare to launch careers in essential and in-demand occupations across Pennsylvania.

Many of these newly minted alumni will serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as nurses, allied health professionals, paramedics and EMTs; others will ensure the delivery of vital goods, maintain power distribution, or provide essential law enforcement or fire services. These individuals are the pillars of the Commonwealth’s economy.

With deep admiration and gratitude, I offer my sincere congratulations to the class of 2020. You inspire us with your dedication and perseverance.

In just 50 years, community colleges have transformed Pennsylvania’s higher education landscape and are now the largest provider of public postsecondary education and training in the Commonwealth.

In the post-pandemic world, the responsive, quality education and training offered by community colleges will be more important than ever.

Elizabeth A. Bolden is the president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. She writes from Harrisburg.