Erie’s campaign to build a community college met disappointment last week, after the state Board of Education voted against taking final action on Erie’s proposal.
By a vote of 8 to 6, board members delayed final action and instead approved a motion to hold an evidentiary meeting in Erie within the next six months.
“It’s a travesty, what just occurred,” said Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County’s executive. “You know, this community has come together. We have proven all the points … to the levels we were supposed to reach in terms of the state law.”
She said the action shows “complete disregard for the Erie community, who has come down here en masse to support moving forward.”
State Rep. Curt Sonney, an Erie County Republican, is one of the state Board of Education members who voted in favor of a delay.
“There was clearly questions from the board, other board members. And I agreed that holding a public hearing would answer those questions,” Sonney said.
Sonney said he has concerns about the long-term costs of a community college in Erie County and whether the community college is sustainable in the long term. The plan calls for a combination of revenue from student tuition, the Erie Community Foundation, unrestricted gaming revenue and state funds.
Sonney said a better fit for Erie County would be a partnership with the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, which describes itself as neither a traditional campus-based college nor an online college.
“I think that we could do more for the potential students in Erie County in a partnership than we can by providing a standalone institution,” said Sonney, who is chairman of the House Education Committee.
The Northern Pennsylvania Regional College offers classes in multiple locations that are “brought together via live interactive video technology,” according to its website. Erie Community college boosters say the region needs its own standalone institution to be on an equal footing with the state’s other high-population communities.
Ron DiNicola, an attorney and one of the backers of the effort, said the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College model works well in some parts of the state “but not in an industrial center like Erie with it’s mixed population of both rural and urban folks who are training for new jobs, single moms who are trying to get a certification.”
“They need the traditional instruction method, and they need a greater variety of courses and other opportunities,” DiNicola said after a meeting state Board of Education committee meeting last month.
State Board of Education members provided few details on the upcoming hearing. DiNicola said he’s confident the community college supporters can answer any questions that board members have.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to address them effectively, and we’ll hopefully stay on course,” he said.
DiNicola said he and other community college supporters could be ready for a hearing at any time.
“There won’t be any delay on our part. We will be ready. …We’ve been ready,” DiNicola said.
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