Mar 31, 2022
Community colleges can deliver a vibrant future for Pennsylvania | Opinion
By John J. “Ski” Sygielski, MBA, Ed.D., president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Published by PennLive, March 30, 2022
As Pennsylvania continues to grapple with disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the projected workforce shortage is alarming, especially in areas of critical need like education and health care. Pennsylvania lost 500,000 jobs in 2020. The state’s unemployment rate has been slow to recover.
But, the leaders of Pennsylvania’s community colleges imagine a vibrant future for our state.
Why? We know firsthand that pipelines exist to train and educate Pennsylvanians who could aid in the economic recovery – because that’s one area where community colleges excel. We also shine in preparing motivated postsecondary students for transfer opportunities to complete their bachelor’s degrees at a rate higher than the national average.
Community colleges are committed to ensuring that Pennsylvanians have access to affordable, high-quality postsecondary education and workforce training. Our institutions collectively serve nearly a quarter of a million students annually from all 67 counties. We also serve more low-income, historically underrepresented and first-in-their-family students than any other sector of higher education in Pennsylvania. These students graduate into better jobs that support a stronger community and economy.
In this region, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, is a strong investment for students, taxpayers and society. A fall 2019 study by labor market analytics firm Emsi found that HACC contributes $1 billion to the local economy annually through the College’s operations, construction spending, student spending and alumni impact.
In addition to the thousands of students taking our approximately 100 certificate, diploma and associate degree programs, HACC has partnerships with school districts and community organizations to broaden the pool of potential workers through short-term training provided by our workforce development team. This gives students the ability to transition into the workforce and make an immediate impact. Apprenticeship programs are also a way of addressing the need for students to “earn while they learn.”
In 2019-20, HACC provided workforce training experiences to approximately 14,854 students, many of whom received customized training to meet the needs of their employers. In addition, HACC has more than 40 short-term programs, many of which are offered remotely and can quickly lead to employment opportunities.
Prior to the pandemic, HACC was more focused on creating opportunities for our students as potential employees. Since the pandemic, however, we’ve seen employers hire first, and then ask for training. As a result, HACC has expanded these workforce training opportunities to be more intentional into areas of our communities that have traditionally been underrepresented, such as communities of color, reentrants and nonnative English speakers. HACC recognizes this is an important component to address workforce shortages.
As a strong advocate for community colleges, I know we are the pathway to speeding Pennsylvania’s economic recovery. Through the education and training of our workforce, we will meet the needs of the state’s business and industries.
But, we cannot do it alone. As we celebrate the critical role of community colleges during Community College Week 2022, March 28-April 1, I urge our state legislators not only to acknowledge these community pillars but invest the necessary resources to ensure they can continue to support Pennsylvania’s economic recovery through the services they provide.