“This really is a fairness issue. Students in rural Pennsylvania need affordable access to the types of programs and services provided by community colleges in other areas of the state,” Causer said. “And from an economic standpoint, rural Pennsylvania as a whole needs this vital economic development tool to help jump start our struggling economy.”
“Community colleges provide low-cost, open admission education opportunities, as well as many technical and middle skill training programs so necessary to today’s workforce and employment,” McDowell said. “What rural Pennsylvania misses is the associate degree programs – that rung between high school and college.
“Pennsylvania’s existing community college system has not been responsive to rural Pennsylvania to the detriment of the economic vitality of the entire state,” he added.
While the briefing on House Bill 1701 was taking place Wednesday morning, the Senate Education Committee took up an identical bill, which was introduced as Senate Bill 1000 by Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-25). The bill passed that committee unanimously and now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.
The bills were introduced in response to a 2011 study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, which verified the lack of community college services in 25 of the state’s 26 rural counties. The study noted that nearly every other state in the nation provides statewide coverage by community colleges and acknowledged the vital role community colleges play in helping to meet the demand for increasing and ever-changing workforce skills. It also pointed out that rural youth who choose to enroll in one of the state’s 14 community colleges today pay at least twice as much in tuition as those who live within a school district with a public community college. Those higher tuition rates, plus greater travel distances, often make community college unaffordable to these students.
Based on the findings of the study, the report recommended the creation of a public community college to serve the state’s rural areas.
“In a region that is struggling like ours – with declining population, especially among our youth; lower-than-average income; and shrinking job opportunities – a community college program could be a catalyst in the effort to rebuild our economy in rural Pennsylvania,” Causer said.
The 11-county area that would be served under the pilot program includes Cameron, Crawford, Clarion, Clearfield, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, Venango and Warren counties.
House Bill 1701 awaits further consideration by the House Education Committee.
Watch footage of the committee meeting: http://youtu.be/bxn52f0ZAfo.
Pictured, Rep. Martin Causer and Dr. Richard McDowell address the House Education Committee in Harrisburg Wednesday about legislation to create a rural regional community college pilot program to serve northwest and north central Pennsylvania.
Photo provided by Causer's office