The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 6, 2013

Walter Asonevich | Community colleges labor to meet demands

— Federal economists estimate that 2 million jobs go unfilled today as a result of skills, training and education gaps. The same is true in Pennsylvania. In a report submitted last year by the Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council, it was noted that the number of new workers entering the industry, coupled with the growth in manufacturing, has left a staggering gap of available skilled workers.

Gone are the days when all that was required of a worker to succeed was to get his or her foot in the door and work hard. Today, while hard work is still important, postsecondary education is required, and frequent retraining is necessary to staying current in one’s field.

It’s estimated that 1.5 million job vacancies in the country consist of jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. The state’s 14 community colleges have served this exact niche for the past 50 years and, given the appropriate resources, these institutions can be the solution to Pennsylvania’s skills gap. 

After years of being severely underfunded by the state, community colleges are struggling to meet the growing demand of students and employers turning to these institutions for education and training. Pennsylvania Highlands Community College has seen a 32 percent drop in its state allocation per full-time equivalent student during the past five years. During this same time frame, Penn Highlands has added welding, culinary arts and health care programs at the request of local industries.

We are working with local business and industry to help repair the skills gap. However, lack of financial resources makes the addition of many high-cost, career-technical programs difficult to achieve.

A recent study by American Association of Community Colleges found that more than one-quarter of those who earn a bachelor’s degree began their college experience at a community college and transferred to a four-year institution along the way. Nearly half of bachelor-degree recipients take at least one course at a community college.

Pennsylvania Highlands has seen a 35 percent growth in its enrollment during the past five years, the majority in traditional college students who plan to attend four-year institutions after their stay at Pennsylvania Highlands. 

Research shows that transferring from a community college to a four-year institution not only works but also saves money. Further, students who start at a community college and transfer to a four-year university are just as successful as those who begin at a four-year institution.

Maintaining access and affordability to these institutions, and ensuring they have the resources to train students for 21st century jobs, cannot and should not be sacrificed in the governor’s 2013-14 budget.

As Gov. Tom Corbett finalizes his proposed budget, we ask him to consider what’s at stake. The future competitiveness of the commonwealth depends upon our ability to provide a quality education that is affordable and accessible for our students and relevant to the needs of today’s businesses and industries.

A strategic investment in Pennsylvania’s community colleges is more important than ever to a rapidly growing college like Pennsylvania Highlands and the communities we serve.

The increase in our enrollment shows that our students recognize the powerful impact that education can have on their lives. We are hopeful the governor recognizes this as well.

Walter Asonevich is president of Pennsylvania Highlands Community College.


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