As 2017 draws to a close and we look forward to the opportunities and challenges the new year will bring, I urge Gov. Tom Wolf to provide additional funding support in his proposed 2018-19 state budget for Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges and the students, employees and communities they serve.
State funding increases for K-12 education have helped bring Pennsylvania students to the door of their future. However, sufficient support is needed at the postsecondary level in order for these students to achieve an associate degree or earn a certificate from a community college to enter a workforce where they can earn family-sustaining wages.
Specifically, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and the 13 other community colleges across Pennsylvania are seeking the Governor’s support in the 2018-19 state budget with the following resources:
- A $10.6-million increase in the community college operating appropriation
- Level funding for the community college capital appropriation at $48.869 million
- An additional $15 million to support career pathways at community colleges to develop and expand pathways that prepare students for careers or future postsecondary study
Pennsylvania’s community colleges remain the largest sector of postsecondary education in the state, serving as the bridge between K-12 education and the workforce. In 2015-16, for example, the community colleges enrolled 326,786 students in both credit and noncredit classes. HACC, which is Pennsylvania’s first and largest community college, enrolled 52,955 students in credit and noncredit classes at its five campuses and community locations during the same period. Additionally, Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges trained 104,000 workers and served nearly 2,000 companies. HACC accounted for the training of nearly 11,000 of those workers and served 708 companies in the College’s 11-county footprint.
Community colleges are at the front line of providing accredited training to help fill the job skills gap faced by Pennsylvania’s manufacturers as their older workers retire. In Pennsylvania, and specifically in Central Pennsylvania, manufacturing is alive and thriving – from fruit and vegetable canning, poultry and food processing to pharmaceuticals and durable goods. The challenge is finding people to fill the jobs associated with these occupations.
The skills gap is not new to the U.S. manufacturing industry. With an aging, retiring workforce and no dedicated pipeline of “ready-to-work” individuals, manufacturers in Central Pennsylvania and across the country are realizing there will likely be approximately 2.7 million jobs (22 percent of the existing workforce) that remain unfilled over the next decade.
According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce:
- There are currently more than 30 million good jobs in the U.S. that pay well without a bachelor’s degree.
- The growth of good jobs is greatest for workers with an associate degree.
- Approximately 63 percent of jobs in Pennsylvania will require more than a high school diploma by 2020.
Pennsylvania’s community colleges are working toward a postsecondary attainment goal of 60 percent of Pennsylvanians with a postsecondary credential by 2025.
At HACC, for example, we are approaching the skills gap by working with manufacturers to design apprenticeship programs to train the workforce of the next generation. HACC registered the first Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship Program in Pennsylvania in February 2017 and will launch more apprenticeships in 2018. This 18-month program is designed to teach entry-level individuals how to set up, operate, monitor and control production equipment. Additionally, HACC’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education team visits with Pennsylvania’s manufacturers to brainstorm creative solutions to assist companies with attracting and retaining qualified workers.
An investment in Pennsylvania’s community colleges is an investment in a stronger future for its citizens. Pennsylvania’s return on investment in our community colleges reaps the following benefits:
- Students who complete their credential at a community college enter a career path with good salaries and increased potential for upward mobility.
- These students also are able to transfer to four-year institutions to pursue bachelor’s degrees and beyond required for some careers.
- Individuals, employers and their communities all receive benefits.
- Ultimately, the state realizes dividends in the form of increased economic activity, reduced spending on social services and increased civic engagement.
John J. Sygielski, Ed.D., is president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and vice chair of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.