06 March 2019

Investment in community colleges is an investment in Pa.'s future | Opinion

By HACC President John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D
Published in PennLive on March 5, 2019

While I am grateful for Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $8 million funding for a community college tuition assistance program as part of his Statewide Workforce, Education and Accountability Program, I am disappointed that his proposed $34.1 billion budget for fiscal 2019-20 does not include an increase in the community college operating or capital line item appropriations.

As president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, I am fully aware these appropriations from the state government are essential for Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges to be able to continue to offer high quality, workforce-aligned programming. The costs to offer highly specialized and technical programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in particular are significant and need Pennsylvania’s support.

In his budget address, Governor Wolf correctly noted Pennsylvania must address the skills gap and increase the postsecondary attainment rate to ensure the state has a well-trained workforce to meet the needs of business and industry. With an aging, retiring workforce and no dedicated pipeline of “ready-to-work” individuals, manufacturers in Pennsylvania and across the country are realizing the skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between now and 2028.

As Pennsylvania’s largest provider of public postsecondary education and training, community colleges have extensive experience and expertise in workforce-aligned programming to address this. We have the flexibility to provide customized training to meet the needs of business and industry. Leveraging the expertise and experience of our community colleges to expand additional programs is the most efficient, effective way to ensure more Pennsylvanians have access to the education and training they need to succeed in today’s workforce. For example, in 2017-18, HACC provided workforce training to 23,035 students, many of whom received customized training to meet the needs of their employers. HACC is the first community college in Pennsylvania to provide an apprenticeship program in advanced manufacturing. HACC’s Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) Apprenticeship Program was developed in partnership with the Governor’s Action Team in the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to support our manufacturing industries. As a result of this partnership, AMES Reese Inc. remained in Lancaster County, ensured of a workforce trained in a specific module in the technology of powered metals to fill the demand of its new plant. HACC’s apprenticeship program continues to expand with six apprenticeship classes in the College’s 11-county footprint in Central Pennsylvania.

It is essential that Pennsylvania provides adequate financial support to meet this demand to fill the workforce skills gap. I call on our state legislators to address the critical need for a better-trained workforce by investing in the state’s 14 community colleges. Without an increase in the operating appropriation, community colleges will be forced to make difficult budget decisions to remain viable while continuing to offer quality education and training.

Pennsylvania lost Amazon because our state does not have enough clear pathways to train workers. State policymakers can prepare for the next large employer that considers making Pennsylvania its home by investing in community colleges, which are offering real solutions and successful pathways to training a skilled workforce.

Because community colleges provide a flexible, high-quality and affordable pathway for our citizens to prepare for or move ahead in high-demand careers, an investment in Pennsylvania’s community colleges is an investment in a stronger economy and future for its citizens. For example, for every dollar society invests in an education from HACC, an average of $7.10 in benefits will accrue to Pennsylvania over the course of the students’ careers.
 
I urge state lawmakers to increase the operating appropriation for community colleges in the 2019-20 budget to enable us to accomplish our shared mission.
 
John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D., is president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and vice chair of the Executive Committee of Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.