Frederick “Fritz” Retsch, trustee at Community College of Beaver County, recently talked with PACCC about the essential role of community colleges for Pennsylvania students and why prioritizing public funding for the colleges is critical to making higher education accessible and affordable.
Why are community colleges essential to Pennsylvania?
Let me answer that question by sharing my own experience. When I was growing up, there was no need for college. You could get a job at the steel mill in Beaver County starting at $50,000 a year. The mill employed over 11,000 people and was one of the largest mills in the world. Suddenly, the mill closed. Those jobs vanished. So, when I graduated high school as a vocation student, I had no pre-requisites for college. But I was given a chance at a nearby college and decided I wanted to be a teacher. Community colleges are essential because they give students that same chance. They help people attain skills to get good paying jobs. Because they are the most affordable option for post-secondary education, they save students a lot of money. And they are equipped to assist students who are struggling and need a little extra help.
Why is it important that the state and local government prioritize funding for Pennsylvania’s community colleges?
First, it is important to make clear that Pennsylvania’s community colleges are not getting the level of public funding they need. Generally, our students don’t come from families that can afford the cost of tuition. They are scrapping by just trying to meet their daily needs. A primary reason that state and local funding needs to be a priority is to ensure that community college is as affordable as possible so more students can gain the skills needed by today’s employers, and so today’s employers have the qualified workforce needed for operate and grow.
What is one thing you believe trustees can do to effectively advocate for their college?
I think one of the most important things we need to do is talk to our local elected officials and remind them that we need more funding. Everywhere I go, I talk about the Community College of Beaver County. We all need to promote constantly and vigilantly. And we can do this from a place of what motivates us personally. For example, for me, I think about the single mother who I saw with her three children when she attended her pinning ceremony for earning her degree in nursing. I am motivated by how much her degree means to her and her family– to have an opportunity to earn a better income. That is the X factor. The colleges change lives in a very personal and meaningful way.
What is something your college has accomplished of which you are particularly proud?
Community College of Beaver County’s partnership with Shell USA is something of which I am especially proud. In 2014, Shell assessed workforce training in our region and identified the need for a Process Technology degree program. Shell selected CCBC as its partner to build a two-year degree program in the field and continues to provide meaningful support to the college. An advanced manufacturing training center, the Shell Center for Process Technology Education, now resides on CCBC’s campus. The facility was fully funded by philanthropic support.
Fritz Retsch, a retired educator, has served as a Community College of Beaver County trustee since 2008. He also represents the college’s board on the board of the CCBC Foundation, a nonprofit that receives, invests and manages financial gifts for the benefit of the college. Fritz taught students in grades 3-12 at Ambridge Area School District in Beaver County for 40 years. He also was a reading specialist at Laughlin Children’s Center, a provider of clinical and academic services for children, in Sewickley for 35 years. In addition to his service for CCBC, Fritz is board president for Ambridge Federal Credit Union and serves on the boards for Merrick Art Gallery, Friends of Old Economy (a museum) and New Hope Lutheran Church in Economy Borough. He also is a member and past president of the Ambridge Rotary Club. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s in education from California University of Pennsylvania (now PennWest California) and completed a doctorate program at the University of Pittsburgh. Fritz enjoys traveling, playing pickleball and sports cars. He lives with his wife and two dogs in Freedom, PA.