Erie Co. community college supporters calling on state Board of Ed. to hold virtual vote on delayed application

A view of the Bicentennial Tower in Erie, Pa. (Photo via Flickr Commons)

ERIE, Pa. — Empower Erie, the nonprofit organization leading the fight for an Erie County community college, is calling on the state Board of Education to vote on its application during a virtual meeting on May 6. 

“We are hopeful that the board will honor the commitment that it made in November of 2019. When it said, ‘We will hold a hearing promptly, and we will give the chairman of the board authority to set that hearing. And that hearing, under any circumstance will be held within six months.’ Six months is up,” Ronald DiNicola, an Erie lawyer and co-founder of Empower Erie, told the Capital-Star. 

Eric Levis, a spokesperson for the state Department of  Education, told the Capital-Star that the agenda for that online session hasn’t been “finalized yet,” and “[expected] it to be done later this week.”

Empower Erie and Erie County officials, who are leading the push, for a community college, have been awaiting a board vote for nearly three years. 

Last fall, the state board met to discuss the application for a community college. Finding that there were still unanswered questions, members elected to hold a public hearing within six months to hear the two sides of the debate and reach a final verdict. 

Waiting Game: With state Board of Ed meeting looming, Erie County’s community college debate may soon be over

Due to COVID-19, the public hearing set for March 18 was postponed indefinitely. 

“We have thousands of young people that are impacted by the decision,” DiNicola said. “Hopefully their lives are not at risk, but their futures are at risk.” 

According to DiNicola, Erie County is “going to go to our third class of students that don’t have access to a community college.”

“And that’s a real serious problem and it should be elevated to the critical list, not postponed for some future consideration, particularly when we already have the Department of Education say that we’ve met the requirements.” 

The three requirements set forth by the department in the Community College Act of 1963, which requires “sufficient population to sustain enrollment, sufficient local wealth, and inadequate service to the region by existing higher education providers – must be met in order for the plan to be approved,” according to the minutes of the Nov. 13 board meeting to discuss Empower Erie’s application. 

“I would submit that the significance of the educational challenges and the consequences to the educational future, thousands of young people and workers, is a matter that should warrant an immediate vote, and I’m not even sure that a hearing is necessary in light of the light of the determination made by the Department of Education,” DiNicola noted on April 24. 

“I think the board should just determine that we know the facts here …  we’ve got thousands of pages of material on this college. Let’s just act on it … We would hope that they will do one or the other, but do it, do it quickly so that our students can get certainty and pursue their futures,” DiNicola said.

Hannah McDonald covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star.