Community Colleges Benefit Pa. Cities. Why Doesn't Erie Have One?
From the back of Barry Grossman's house, you get a panoramic view of Lake Erie: miles and miles of uninterrupted lake, anchored on one side by the popular Presque Isle State Park. And in the distance, a large ship making its way slowly across the lake.
"Last two days, I've seen four major lake liners go by," said Grossman, the former Erie County executive. "Usually you don't see them this time of year."
Grossman hopes that means industry is starting to pick up around the lake again. But he worries Erie's workforce won't be ready for a big turnaround.
"There is a company here that does ship repair," said Grossman. "When I was county executive, touring it, they couldn't get enough welders. They were bringing welders in from California."
To improve Erie's workforce, Grossman wanted to bring a community college to the area. In Pennsylvania, there are 14 community college systems with 99 branch campuses and instructional sites. Of the 15 largest cities in the state, Erie is the only one without a community college location.
It's not that the city doesn't have educational opportunities. There are four universities — Mercyhurst, Gannon, Edinboro and Penn State Erie, The Behrend College — and a medical school.
"But there are lots of people in the population [who] aren't geared for a four-year college-degree type training," Grossman said. "The community college serves that other portion which I think remains largely unserved."
Grossman's community college proposal was voted down in 2010. He thinks the local universities were opposed to the idea.
"And when you have four colleges in a relatively small county, obviously, they can exert a lot of political pressure," he said.