By John J. “Ski” Sygielski, MBA, Ed.D., president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Published by PennLive, March 2, 2021
In an economy hit hard by the effects of COVID-19, it is more critical than ever for Pennsylvania to open its pocketbook in support of community colleges.
As president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College – the state’s first and largest community college – I am made aware every day of the struggles our students face as they dedicate effort, scarce resources and limited time to create a better future for themselves and their loved ones. With our open admissions and open arms, community colleges are the Ellis Island of postsecondary education and training.
For nearly six decades, community colleges responded quickly to the immediate needs of our business communities. For example, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, HACC quickly adapted to remote instruction for police, fire, emergency management services, paramedic and pre-hospital nursing students so that they could continue with their programs. Then, to meet Pennsylvania’s need for more first responders on the front lines of the pandemic, we swiftly moved to implement strict policies and procedures to safely return these students to campus for classroom and hands-on training required for their certification.
HACC’s responsiveness to the current needs of the Pennsylvania economy reflects our mission to provide educational pathways and training for people from all walks of life. In 2018-19, HACC provided workforce training experiences to approximately 22,235 students, many of whom received customized training to meet the needs of their employers. In addition, HACC has more than 30 short-term programs, many of which are offered remotely and can lead to employment opportunities.
Unfortunately, Governor Wolf’s proposed 2021-22 budget does not include operating or capital funding increases for community colleges. As budget deliberations begin, I implore our state legislators to recognize the vital role community colleges play in the recovery of our state’s economy. I strongly urge them to allocate necessary funds to keep our programs operating and provide resources available to the many citizens who are struggling to find the means to meet their most basic needs. For fiscal year 2021-22, community colleges are seeking a 5% increase in community college operating appropriations, from $243.8 million to $256 million, and asking to transfer $49.8 million to the community college capital fund.
HACC and each of Pennsylvania’s community colleges stand ready to provide the backbone of support for Pennsylvania’s return to a thriving, innovative home for industry and businesses large and small. However, we cannot do it alone. We need increased state dollars to ensure our success.