By Elizabeth A. Bolden
Community colleges are essential to Pennsylvania, offering a broad range of educational and training opportunities. Collectively, community colleges educate more than a quarter of a million students annually and are the largest provider of public postsecondary and workforce education in the Commonwealth.
For community colleges, who we educate is almost as important as what we teach.
The 14 Pennsylvania community colleges serve more low-income and first-time college students than any other sector of higher education. Nearly half of community college students in the Commonwealth are considered very low-income, coming from families earning less than $30,000 annually.
We are essential, not just to the students we serve, but also the communities we enrich. The 14 community colleges and their students and alumni add as much as $13.6 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy, approximately two percent of the total gross state product. In 2018-19, Pennsylvania community colleges awarded more than 75 percent of the associate degrees earned in nursing within the Commonwealth.
For transfer students pursuing a four-year degree, research indicates that community college graduates outperform students who began their higher education journey at a four-year college or university.
The 30,000 annual transfer students save at least $20,000 on the cost of higher education by starting at community college. More than 80 percent of these community college alumni transfer to a Pennsylvania institution, providing a consistent source of enrollment to baccalaureate-granting institutions.
Community colleges are essential to the Commonwealth’s success, and need support now more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring that our students have the resources to learn on the digital platform cost community colleges millions of dollars.
The unexpected costs of providing students with laptops, broadband access and other necessary resources pale in comparison to the financial damage the colleges sustained through lost revenue.
The affordable transfer programs and career-focused workforce training courses offered by community colleges – which allow displaced workers to retrain or upskill for jobs that are in-demand now – are essential to the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.
We ask Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the General Assembly to appropriate the funding necessary for Pennsylvania community colleges to continue to serve Pennsylvania’s students, employers and communities.
Elizabeth A. Bolden is the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. She writes from Harrisburg.