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State Senate OKs Rural Community College Plan

A rural community college based in western Pennsylvania is one step closer to becoming a reality. The proposal to start setting up a 15th community college passed with just four votes cast against it in the state Senate Wednesday.

The bill, proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), aims to provide educational and job-training opportunities in a region that has been historically underserved, according to a 2011 study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

But opponents raised questions about why a historically underserved region couldn’t have its needs met by the existing state system of universities or the 14 community colleges already in operation.

“We cannot continue to just add new program after new program on,” said Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester). “We have to have some coordination for higher education in this commonwealth.”

Dinniman, who is co-sponsoring a measure to let universities leave the state system of publicly-owned universities, pointed out that the LBFC report suggested a rural, regional community college be created as an outgrowth of that same system.  

“I guess what I don’t understand is why can’t — within the existing law, within the existing systems — why can’t a collaboration cannot begin to be formed in order to meet what has been identified as a glaring need?” said Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny).

Scarnati has said in the past that he’s such concerns before, but discussions about building on existing institutions hasn’t yielded results for rural, western Pennsylvania since he was elected 14 years ago.

“I’m not going to make apologies for the fact that the state system schools and the state-related schools haven’t expanded into all these counties, these 25 counties,” Scarnati said. “I’m not going to make apologies for supporting families that want to do better and have opportunities.”

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