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21 January 2015

Statement Regarding President Obama’s State of the Union Address and Community Colleges

By John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D.,
President of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Jan. 21, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – President Obama’s proposal to lower the cost of community college to zero for those who meet the requirements will make a significant difference in the lives of students at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, as well as those who want to pursue an education but cannot afford it.

In his state of the union address on Jan. 20, 2015, President Obama reiterated his proposal to lower the cost of community college to zero for those who keep their grades up and graduate on time “because many are being priced out of education by the cost.”

The struggle to make ends meet while juggling classes and family responsibilities is a universal day-to-day reality for the HACC students who are single parents, veterans, older students who have lost their jobs and students who are from first-generation or lower-income families.

As President Obama noted in his address, by the end of this decade, two of three jobs in this country will require post-secondary education and training.  HACC and other community colleges are the engines that fuel our economy by working in partnership with the industry and business to provide the training for in-demand jobs.

A snapshot of HACC students who would benefit from President Obama’s proposal includes Winfred Fox of Lancaster, James Truitt of York and Liz Caples of Gettysburg. They are among the 40 percent of the nation’s college students who chose a community college to get the education and skills necessary to compete in today’s workplace.

Fox could have reached her goal of being a nurse sooner if President Obama’s proposal existed when she enrolled at HACC’s Lancaster Campus in 2008. Fox worked for the last six years to put herself through HACC – first to earn her certification as licensed practical nurse and, in December 2014, to graduate with an associate degree in nursing. “I have worked throughout school,” said Fox, who continues to work at Landis Homes Retirement Community near Lititz. Affordability also played a role in her decision, with finances her biggest challenge to attending college. “Finances have always gotten in my way to finishing as soon as I wanted to,” she said.

Truitt, a disabled military veteran, enrolled at HACC’s York Campus after losing the job he had held for 10 years. Truitt, who has been out of school for 20 years, returned to the classroom when he realized “deep yearning to help others overcome issues stemming from abuse and general obstacles in life required an education.” Truitt, who is still unemployed, is half-way toward his goal of earning an associate degree in social sciences.

Caples works three jobs to pay for her classes at HACC’s Gettysburg Campus, where she is a psychology major. The 18-year-old works at Subway on the campus during the week and cleans houses on the weekends. She also is a tutor in the writing lab. “I decided to attend HACC, because I wanted an education that was affordable, flexible and high-quality. I also wanted to attend a college that was close to home, and the Gettysburg Campus fit that need.” Among the many things Caples likes about HACC is the diversity of the student body. “There are traditional students, adult students, students from other countries, and there are so many ethnicities and cultures represented.” Her goal is to become a clinical psychologist.

Winfred, James, Liz and the thousands of other students who come to HACC to achieve their dreams for a better life are the reason HACC stands ready to embrace President Obama’s community college proposal. It will enhance what we already do in our partnership with local businesses.  

I look forward to working with our congressional delegation to help them better understand President Obama’s proposal and make it beneficial to all of their constituents in our service region.


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