State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

A bid to bring community college to a rural part of PA

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 9, 2013 1:55 PM
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State lawmakers are looking into planting a community college in the rural northwestern part of the commonwealth.

A state Senate proposal to get a pilot program off the ground comes in response to a report showing that 25 of the commonwealth's 26 rural counties do not have a community college. The dearth of community colleges in rural Pennsylvania has a couple possible consequences, according to experts: less access to job training results in an undertrained workforce or an outward migration of young people.

To fix this, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) wants to create a community college to serve a rural, roughly 11-county region in the northwest.

Randy Smith, head of the national group, Rural Community College Alliance, said his team saw big potential in the region for a community college.

"We found that there was an extreme need for workforce development in that region," Smith said. "There were jobs available but there wasn't enough trained workforce to fill those positions and that was predicted to continue well into the future."

At a recent Senate committee hearing, some lawmakers suggested a new school might hurt efforts to better align the state's existing 14 community colleges. Scarnati was unmoved.

"If I wait for that, I'll wait for another 13 years to get this," Scarnati. "So it's my goal to get something in place in the rural area before the hell I lose all my hair and we lose more kids and more students."

Smith recognized the concern that a new, large community college could take much-needed state resources away from the existing system, but said it's an overdue investment in an underserved region.

"The folks in northwest Pennsylvania have a gap," Smith said. "They've had a gap there for 50 years. And they've sent their tax dollars to other institutions of higher education statewide for nearly 50 years when the community colleges were started in the late 60s."

The proposal is in its early stages - there's no budget estimate yet for planning, let alone facility construction. The 11 counties the proposed college would serve haven't yet been identified.



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