State Sen. Lisa M. Boscola has spent the majority of her professional career working to improve the lives of Lehigh Valley residents. Currently the co-chair of the Community College Caucus, Sen. Boscola shares her perspective on higher education and community colleges below:
Q: What inspired you to become a Community College Caucus Co-Chair? How has it shaped your approach to higher education in the Commonwealth?
A: The inspiration become a Community College Caucus Co-Chair came from many places. First, I was raised in a household where my mother attended Northampton Community College (NCC) while raising us, so I saw at an early age the positive impact that community colleges had on families. Second, my Senatorial District is home to two community colleges – NCC and Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC). Both do a tremendous job educating students to either move into the workforce or continue on to four-year degree programs. Finally, I believe fully in the mission of our community colleges – that quality education can be accessible and affordable – and the positive impact these postsecondary institutions have on our citizens and economy.
Q: Why is higher education in Pennsylvania important to you?
A: Higher education has such an important role in Pennsylvania, along with our K-12, in the future of our Commonwealth and our nation. Community colleges now educate more than 250,000 Pennsylvanians each year and are the Commonwealth’s largest provider of public postsecondary and workforce education. Advocating for a balanced public policy approach to all higher education avenues is tantamount to ensuring we are able to train Pennsylvanians for the jobs needed by employers in our Commonwealth.
Q: As an elected official, you understand how important workforce pathways are to Pennsylvanians and the Commonwealth’s economy. From your perspective, what role do community colleges play in training, upskilling, and educating workers for in-demand, family-sustaining careers?
A: Community colleges are absolutely integral as part of a state strategy in providing a pathway to the workforce and family-sustaining jobs. When I was in high school, my parents believed the only pathway to a career was through a four-year college. But today, a four-year school is not the only “best” path to that family-sustaining job. Other pathways, such as short-term training programs offered by community colleges, also provide the skills to thrive in family-sustaining careers.
Q: How have community colleges enriched your life or the lives of those living in your district?
A: Northampton Community College and Lehigh Carbon Community College have a tremendous impact on both the students and communities in my district. First, NCC and LCCC serve more than 40,000 students annually. Second, not only do these educational institutions provide easily-transferrable college courses at an affordable price, but they also offer special skills training, something that is critically important to providing job opportunities.
As Senator, I have met with educators and business leaders all across the state. One thing that was made abundantly clear was that a successful career in today’s economy does not necessarily require a four-year degree. In fact, I’ve heard repeatedly that the skills training community colleges provide is instrumental in meeting the demands of our manufacturing sector, who are having difficulty finding workers with the skillsets they are seeking. Through these programs, community colleges offer the opportunity for students to earn an associates or certificate degree in highly-skilled fields that are in demand by employers in my district, the Lehigh Valley and our Commonwealth.
Q: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing community colleges in the Commonwealth?
A: Community colleges have always been the leader in quickly adapting to the changing economic conditions. We have seen this with the pandemic. But with the need for quicker response and with the proliferation of technology, the biggest challenge facing our community colleges is their ability to maintain their affordability, which has been their hallmark for decades. The Commonwealth needs to increase their investment directly to our community colleges. I have also been a proponent of increased funding for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) so that students who need financial aid to pursue higher education have greater access.
For more information on Sen. Boscola, please visit her website.