The PA Commission for Community Colleges Friday issued this statement in response to an announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf that he was convening a Middle Class Task Force made up of business, labor, education and workforce development experts to hear how the lives of middle class families can be improved. The statement follows--
“The Wolf Administration’s convening of the Middle Class Task Force is a promising development, but the task force should also incorporate current research into their findings as they seek to understand how to help Pennsylvania’s middle class.
“Higher education and job training are key to supporting both Pennsylvania’s employers and workers.
“According to the 2016 Pew Foundation Study, “The State of American Jobs,” more than half (54 percent) of adults in the labor force say it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.
“Half of Americans say the purpose of college should be to teach job-related skills, and 85 percent of respondents rank “soft skills” as critical. These are all areas in which community colleges excel.
“Without a doubt, the way the state can better support Pennsylvanians who want to get and keep a Job that Pays is by providing them access to high-quality education and workforce training programs that provide them with the skills that employers need, and which Americans rank as important.
“But it has become increasingly difficult for the middle class to access these education and training programs because of cost.
“Public postsecondary education in Pennsylvania is among the most expensive in the nation. The average tuition cost at Pennsylvania’s public community colleges is unfortunately among the highest in the nation, in part because of the low levels of state support.
“An August 2017 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that higher education spending in Pennsylvania, when adjusted for inflation, decreased by $2,533 per student from 2008-2017 – and ranked 4th among states in the largest proportion of cuts.
“Despite community colleges’ critical role in assisting Pennsylvanians – and particularly those with limited financial resources – access life-changing higher education opportunities, the Commonwealth’s FY 17-18 budget failed to provide any funding increase for the community college operating and capital appropriations.
“The funding for the colleges was stagnant. At the same time, the budget increased other education-related appropriations by $442 million.
“In just three years, it is projected that 63 percent of Pennsylvania’s jobs will require at least an associate’s degree or some training beyond high school.
“Yet many middle class families and students struggle to pay tuition at one of the state’s community colleges, and wonder why paying for a community college education requires them to work and borrow more.
“The state’s lagging support for community colleges increases cost of attendance, and reduces the middle class’ ability to obtain a life-changing postsecondary credential.
“We understand the Administration’s imperative to not leave the middle class behind. The best way to provide access to the education and training these individuals need is to invest in the providers of that training: Pennsylvania’s community colleges.
“The Commission urges policymakers to reverse the troubling trend of the Commonwealth’s disinvestment in public higher education, thereby providing all Pennsylvanians – and especially those in the middle class – with affordable higher education opportunities.”
For more information, visit the PA Commission for Community Colleges website.