State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Plans for a northwestern community college prompt concerns

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 21, 2014 8:21 AM
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State proposals to create a new community college in northwestern Pennsylvania are prompting concerns about funding and fairness.

Plans to add a 15th community college to the state's system is raising eyebrows at other schools. The new college would be funded with state aid and tuition. But the commonwealth's current 14 community colleges have to secure local funding, either from schools districts or their county.

"It's the funding mechanism that's being contemplated here that is problematic for me," said Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne). "It just seems patently unfair that we're going to have two separate funding mechanisms relative to community college funding: one that applies to 14 and one that applies to one."

Karen Stout, president of the Montgomery County Community College, agreed a new college with such reliance on state aid could create tension with the other community colleges.

"I do think the unintended consequences of moving forward with a different funding model could definitely threaten local sponsorship across the commonwealth to the existing 14 community colleges," Stout said.

Proposals in the state House and Senate would create a community college for an 11-county region in northwestern Pennsylvania. The House bill is getting a committee hearing in late February. A similar bill is pending approval in the full the Senate.

"I think we are not sure what the impact will be on existing colleges, and that's a risk to that proposal," said Elizabeth Bolden, president of the Pennsylvania Commission of Community Colleges.

A 2011 legislative study found the region to be underserved in education and job training opportunities. Stout says it would be best to try to meet those needs within the existing system of community colleges, though the study also noted that rural students at community colleges tend to pay much higher tuition than students living closer to the schools.

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