Leaders of Pennsylvania’s 14 public community colleges are concerned of the impact that level funding proposed by Gov.Wolf in his 2017-18 budget will have on their schools and communities.
The community colleges enrolled nearly 327,000 students last year in both credit and non-credit classes, and the sector is the largest public provider of higher education in Pennsylvania.
While recent, incremental increases in the state’s appropriation for community colleges have been welcomed, they have not kept pace with inflation. At the same time, many local sponsors have decreased their contributions to the colleges.
For the 2017-18 budget, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) requested a $28 million increase in the operating appropriation for the colleges and a $2M increase in their capital appropriation for 2017-18.
The community colleges are currently funded below 2008-09 levels, even before accounting for inflation. The colleges have implemented numerous cuts on their campuses as state and local funding has shrunk while expenses rise.
Despite these challenges, in 2015-16 the colleges conferred more than 17,000 awards – an 18 percent increase over awards conferred in 2008-09. The statewide average tuition at community colleges is $3,070 for 2016-17 – nearly half the cost of Pennsylvania’s other public postsecondary offerings.
“Community colleges are constantly re-evaluating and retooling our course offerings and operations to ensure that we are in alignment with community and workforce needs,” said Luzerne County Community College President Tom Leary, who serves as board chair of PACCC. “We have been tightening our belts and looking for efficiencies in every corner of our budgets for years – it is integral to our mission, which is to provide a quality, low-cost, accessible higher education for Pennsylvanians.”
Despite their critical role in the Commonwealth education and workforce systems, the colleges receive the lowest per-student resources from the Commonwealth.
For the 2016-17 fiscal year, the Commonwealth’s per-student funding at community colleges averaged $2,570 compared to per-student funding of $3,352 at state-related universities, $4,405 at state system universities, and $13,641 at other publicly-supported institutions of higher education.
“An investment in Pennsylvania’s community colleges is an investment in Pennsylvania’s future,” said Elizabeth Bolden, the president and CEO of the PACCC. “If the Commonwealth is to sustain its economic recovery and attract new industries, it must invest in the institutions and programs that provide highly-skilled and trained employees to support those industries.”
Capital funding for the colleges is also proposed to remain static.
The $2 million increase requested by the Commission would have been the first increase in capital funding since 2013-14. A 2014 survey of the capital needs of the colleges determined that they had a capital need of more than $700 million.
“This is only the first step in the budget process,” said Leary. “We remain hopeful that the General Assembly and the Wolf Administration can work together to increase funding for the community colleges in the final budget.”For more information, visit the PA Commission for Community Colleges website.