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Politics & Government

Bill Would Create Community College Affordability Task Force

As community college officials continue their fight for more state funding, the Pennsylvania Senate is considering a bill that would convene a task force on community college affordability.

“I don’t think there has been any organized effort to really review how community colleges are funded, particularly at the state level and the local level,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County. “Over time the funding from various sources, particularly government sources, has eroded to the extent that students have the burden.”

The bill (SB 360) is sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bob Mensch (R-PA-29). He said the funding formula used to be that one-third would come from the state, one-third from the community the college serves and one-third from students.

“But in Montgomery County this year, the student will be paying in excess of 55 percent," Mensch said. "The county is down to 18 percent, and the state is making up the difference of about 27 percent, so we need to take a look at that. Is that where it should be?”

The goal of the task force would be to not only examine how community colleges are funded, but also to find a more predictable and sustainable path for future funding that will not place the burden on students.

But the main goal, according to Mensch, is to ensure that community colleges remain accessible.

“Meaning not only the affordability, but also where do we have community colleges today?" he said. "We have 14 of them; where should they be located or where might they be located throughout the rest of the state where we don’t have a presence? The task force will be looking at job development, economic development as well.”

The task force would be chaired by the state education secretary and would include officials from government, academia, the community and students.

Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges serve more than 500,000 student enrollees. Officials, such as CCAC’s Johnson, are concerned because costs continue to rise while state funding remains flat, and they don’t want to pass the increases along to students.

For now, Johnson said, community colleges remain more affordable than traditional four-year colleges.

“Nonetheless, the students will need some relief,” he said, “and the bill is really to review the funding sources and make sure they’re more equitable."

SB 360 received unanimous approval from the Senate Education Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full Senate.

Rep. Jim Marshall (R-PA-14) is expected to introduce the legislation in the House this session.

In addition to the task force bill, community colleges and state Sen. Lisa Bascola (D-PA-18) have convened the Community College Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers which Johnson said will work with community colleges.

“We have 50-some individuals who make up the caucus and are representing us not only in Harrisburg but in their local communities,” Johnson said.