Sydney Beeler, Ed.D., vice president of Enrollment Management at Westmoreland County Community College, has become a powerful advocate for low-income single mothers trying to better themselves and their families through education. She has presented the findings of her recent research on the subject at several recent conferences.
One stepping stone she’s found for these parents on their pathway to education attainment is the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Program, which was established by the state Department of Human Services in the early 2000s. It allows parents on cash assistance to meet federal work requirements by enrolling in one of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges.
In her research, Dr. Beeler identified several overarching themes. Interestingly, the participants’ children presented both barriers to their mother’s education, yet were also the primary motivator for educational persistence and success.
“I wouldn’t be back in school if it wasn’t for my baby. It wouldn’t have happened at all. It wasn’t even in my plan for the future. I kept saying I’d go back to college, but it never happened,” said one study participant named Ariel. “…[Now] I wake up, I see the smiling face looking at me and I’m like, if I don’t get off of welfare, she’s gonna want for everything.”
In addition to the Department of Human Services KEYS Program, which is administered at the community college level, study participants also found support networks, ACT 101 and on-campus resources helpful. Alternatively, some found the admissions and enrollment process to be challenging, as well as navigating financial aid. Throughout it all, KEYS Program advisors were there to assist eligible students.
“My KEYS advisors definitely helped me the most at school,” said Lori, study participant. “I remember Mary keeping my son in her office one day so I could go to class.”
This year Dr. Beeler has presented her research findings at the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Summit in June and Pennsylvania Department of Education and Department of Human Services Parent Pathways Summit in April.
(L-R) Melissa Addis from HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and Shae-Lynn Harris from Reading Area Community College recently shared their stories of being successful KEYS Participants at a Department of Human Services press conference with Secretary Miller.
Pennsylvania Community Colleges to Offer 70 New Programs for the 2019-20 Academic Year
Responsive New Programs Complement Approximately 1,300 Existing In-Person and Entirely Online Certificates, Degrees and Courses Offered by Pennsylvania’s 14 Community Colleges
Expanding the already robust certificates, diplomas and degrees offered by Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges, the colleges will offer 70 new programs in wide-ranging and in-demand careers for the 2019-20 academic year. The in-person and distance education opportunities include programs in STEM, hydroponic agriculture and substance abuse treatment.
“As the largest provider of higher education in Pennsylvania, our community colleges are critical to the Commonwealth’s continued workforce development and career readiness,” said Elizabeth A. Bolden, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “By regularly evaluating local needs and partnering with growing business to create new programs, our colleges are building pathways to in-demand careers that offer family-sustaining wages.”
The decision to create new programs at community colleges is a multi-step process that accounts for local labor market data; demand in high-priority occupations; student interest; equipment, facility and faculty needs; college strategic plans; and the needs of local employers. Many colleges consult with advisory councils comprised of employers in varying industries.
Ultimately, the decision to add new programs rests in the hands of the Board of Trustees at each individual community college. Because the course offerings are managed on a local level, community colleges are able to nimbly respond to needs of their local communities.
A full list of the new programs set to begin in the fall of 2019 or the spring of 2020 is below. For more information on a specific program, please contact the offering community college:
- Community College of Allegheny County | Plastics Manufacturing Technology | Certificate
- Community College of Allegheny County | Barber | Certificate (Pending Approval)
- Community College of Allegheny County | Supervision and Leadership | Certificate
- Community College of Beaver County | Chemistry | Degree
- Community College of Beaver County | Computer Science | Degree
- Community College of Beaver County | Construction Technology and Management | Certificate
- Community College of Beaver County | Meteorology | Degree
- Community College of Beaver County | Mathematics | Degree
- Community College of Beaver County | Physics | Degree
- Community College of Beaver County | Sociology | Degree
- Community College of Beaver County | Mascaro Construction High School Academy | Dual Enrollment
- Community College of Beaver County | STEM High School Academy (Coding Track) | Dual Enrollment
- Bucks County Community College | Medical Laboratory Technician | A.A.S.
- Bucks County Community College | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | Certificate
- Bucks County Community College | Global Studies/World Languages | A.A.
- Bucks County Community College | Microsoft Office Technology & Customer Service Specialist | Non-Credit Certificate
- Bucks County Community College | Industrial Maintenance Training Program for Youth/Young Adults | Non-Credit Certificate
- Delaware County Community College| Forklift Yard Jockey | Certificate
- Delaware County Community College | Nursing | Accelerated A.A.S.N. to R.N .-B.S.N. with West Chester University
- HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College | English | A.A.
- HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College | Political Science | A.A.
- Lehigh Carbon Community College | Visual Media | A.S.
- Lehigh Carbon Community College | Health Care Office Coordinator | A.A.S.
- Luzerne County Community College | Social Media & Digital Marketing | Certificate
- Luzerne County Community College | Business Management | Diploma
- Luzerne County Community College | E-Sports Management | Certificate
- Montgomery County Community College | Tourism and Hospitality Management | A.A.S.
- Montgomery County Community College | Tourism and Hospitality Management | Certificate
- Montgomery County Community College | Physical Therapist Assistant | A.A.S.
- Montgomery County Community College | Pharmacy Technician | Certification
- Montgomery County Community College | Nurse Aide Training | Certification
- Montgomery County Community College | Medical Billing Specialist | Certification
- Northampton Community College | Psychology | A.A.
- Northampton Community College | English Proficiency | Specialized Diploma
- Northampton Community College | Public Health | Specialized Diploma
- Northampton Community College | Auto Service Consultant | Certificate
- Northampton Community College | Adventure Course Management | Specialized Diploma
- Pennsylvania Highlands Community College | Engineering Technology | A.A.S.
- Pennsylvania Highlands Community College | Sustainable Hydroponic Agriculture and Rural Entrepreneurship (SHARE) | Certificate
- Pennsylvania Highlands Community College | Substance Abuse and Addiction Technician | Certificate
- Pennsylvania Highlands Community College | Bookkeeping | Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Advanced Automotive Repair Professional | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Black Studies | A.A.
- Community College of Philadelphia | Business of Coaching | Non-Credit Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Business Leadership | A.A.S.
- Community College of Philadelphia | Business Leadership | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Coach-approach Style of Leadership| Non-Credit Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Coding | Non-Credit Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Computer Programming I – Application, Web and Database Development | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Computer Programming II – Algorithms and Computation | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Corporate Social Responsibility | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Digital Investigations | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Digital Marketing | Non-Credit Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Fashion Merchandising and Marketing | A.A.S.
- Community College of Philadelphia | Fashion Retail and Customer Service | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Fashion Retail Sales | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Mastering Video Marketing | Non-Credit Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Tourism and Hospitality Management | A.A.
- Community College of Philadelphia | Tourism and Hospitality Management | Proficiency Certificate
- Community College of Philadelphia | Web Development II – Cloud Computing | Proficiency Certificate
- Westmoreland County Community College | Plumbing| A.A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Plumbing| Certificate
- Westmoreland County Community College | Plumbing| Diploma
- Westmoreland County Community College | Computer Science| A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Health Science | A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Physics| A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Chemistry | A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Biology | A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Expanded Functions Dental Assisting| A.A.S.
- Westmoreland County Community College | Mathematics | A.S.
Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges
Announces Prestigious Two-Year Executive Committee Appointments
Newly Elected Executive Committee Members Include College Presidents, Local Business Leaders
The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) today announced the recently elected officers to the Executive Committee of its Board of Directors. The Executive Committee leads the PACCC Board of Directors in determining the statewide direction and policy interests of its 14 community colleges.
Executive Committee members serve two-year terms, which begin July 1, 2019. The following officers have been nominated and approved by the PACCC Board of Directors to the Executive Committee:
Chair, Executive Committee, PACCC Board of Directors
John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D.
President, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
Vice Chair, Executive Committee, PACCC Board of Directors
Mark Erickson, Ed.D.
President, Northampton Community College
Secretary, Executive Committee, PACCC Board of Directors
Lynn Distasio, LPT
Vice Chair, Board of Trustees, Luzerne County Community College
Treasurer, Executive Committee, PACCC Board of Directors (Second Term)
Donald L. Heller, CPA
Chair, Board of Trustees, Delaware County Community College
“These individuals are highly respected within their community, deeply invested in our mission, and profoundly dedicated to the success of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges,” said Elizabeth A. Bolden, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “These Executive Committee members understand how critical it is to leverage the expertise and experience of community colleges to increase the workforce readiness skills and educational attainment level of Pennsylvanians, which in turn generates a productive workforce and vibrant economy.”
In the 2017-18 academic year, Pennsylvania’s community colleges enrolled more than 300,000 students from all 67 counties in the Commonwealth. They also provided a foundation for nearly 35,000 students who sought transfer to four-year institutions, saving these students up to $20,000 on the cost of higher education.
Dr. Sygielski became the seventh president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, in July 2011. His previous appointments include president of Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, and president of Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia. He began his professional career as a teacher in a Chicago inner-city school followed by a stint as a corporate trainer for two Fortune 500 companies. He transitioned to a community college career at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where he began his community college administration and college teaching career.
Dr. Sygielski is the past chairman of the board for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and AACC’s 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. He also serves on the boards of the Broad Street Market Alliance, Capitol Area Greenbelt Association, Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce, Northeast PA Strategic Early Warning Network (SEWN) and Pennsylvania’s Workforce Development Board. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Harrisburg.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy, two master’s degrees in business and a doctorate in education, as well as an honorary associate degree. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Sygielski is the only member of his working-class family to graduate from college.
“I appreciate the confidence my peers have in my abilities to represent them throughout the Commonwealth as we address a variety of higher education and workforce development opportunities,” Sygielski said. “I look forward to representing the largest sector of higher education in Pennsylvania to business associations, elected officials and community leaders in order to help them better understand the mission, value and tremendous training and education offerings of community colleges throughout the Commonwealth. I also look forward to working with my peers to address significant changes that our sector of higher education is beginning to deal with in order to meet the ever-changing educational needs of our employers and workforce.”
Mark H. Erickson Ed.D., became the fourth president of Northampton Community College on July 1, 2012, driven by a strong belief that the most innovative, exciting and important work in higher education was, and is, taking place at the nation’s community colleges. A native of Nebraska, Dr. Erickson holds a bachelor’s degree in American history from Princeton University and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. While earning his doctorate in educational leadership at Lehigh University, he received the Mathew W. Gaffney Award for Academic Excellence. He served in several important positions at Lehigh, including dean of students from 1990-1999, associate vice president and executive assistant to the president from 1999-2001, and vice president for administrative and government affairs from 2001-2005.
In 2005, he was named president of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio. During his seven years there he was credited with facilitating the development of new academic programs, expanding international exchange opportunities, and fostering a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the regional community. Under his leadership as president of Northampton Community College, the institution has thrived. The college was selected as one of the top 150 community colleges in the nation by the Aspen Institute in 2014, the same year NCC opened a new $72 million 84-acre campus in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Erickson’s local, state and national leadership includes serving as Chair of Community Colleges for International Development, a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, and Chair of the Lehigh Valley Education Talent Supply Council. He also serves on the boards of the Lehigh Valley Industrial Parks, the Lehigh Valley Partnership, the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, Campus Compact of New York & Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation Board of Associates.
“Community colleges are vitally important to providing accessible higher education and workforce training in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Erickson. “The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges has long advocated that community colleges are not only essential to a healthy, vibrant economy, but they are often the only chance at higher education for many of the state’s residents. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues and the Commission to ensure our students and the communities we serve are successful for years to come.”
Lynn Distasio is currently vice chair of the Board of Trustees at Luzerne County Community College. She also serves as chair of the Board’s Legislative, Economic, and Public Affairs Committee. She has served as a member of the Luzerne Board from 2008 to 2013 and from 2015 to the present.
Distasio co-founded PRO Rehabilitation Services in 1997, which specializes in delivering outpatient physical and occupational rehabilitation services. She began as a treating clinician and clinical manger with the company and was promoted to chief operating officer/clinical director in 2003. She also oversees the operations of PRO Fitness Club, a health and wellness center and Athletic Republic, a sports performance training center.
Prior to working at PRO Rehabilitation Services, she was director of services at Riverside Rehabilitation Center II and physical therapy program director at East Coast Rehabilitation. Distasio also served as an adjunct faculty member at Misericordia University where she taught a course in leadership, administration, and management in physical therapy.
She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy from Temple University. In the community, Distasio has served as a board member of the Colleen Shea Children’s Foundation since 2002 whose mission is to help serve the needs of children through charitable fund-raising and community service. She also recently accepted a board position with the American Heart Association serving the Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties and was appointed as chairwoman for the GO Red for Woman Experience for 2019.
“I am honored to be appointed as secretary for the PA Commission for Community Colleges Board of Directors and especially to be the first trustee to serve from Luzerne in the College’s history,” said Distasio. “I understand how important the community college is to the development of our community and I look forward to working with all trustees to support the Commission and its commitment to our students in keeping education in PA affordable and accessible for all.”
The 2019-21 appointment marks Donald Heller‘s second term as Treasurer of the PACCC Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. Heller has been a member of the Delaware County Community College Board of Trustees since 2014, and currently serves as chair.
As senior vice dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, he manages all operating and financial functions of the college and oversees TUTV, the Temple University cable television channel. With more than 30 years business management and finance experience, especially in the entertainment and cable business, Heller also serves as a business development, financing, and operations management consultant.
Previously, Heller was Assistant Dean of Temple University’s College of Engineering. Prior to joining the university, he spent 20 years in cable television as Vice President and General Manager of the PRISM network and as Vice President at the parent company of Suburban Cable Lenfest Communications developing international expansion.
A native of Springfield Township in Delaware County, Heller holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State University and is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a strong commitment to the community. He also serves as the Vice Chair of the Philadelphia Police Athletic League (PAL) Board and Chair of the PAL Scholarship Committee and Foundation. He was an elected local school board member for 12 years, serving as Board President and Treasurer prior to joining the Delaware County Community College Board of Trustees. He also served four years in the United States Air Force.
Sean Kerpovich of Luzerne County decided to serve his country after the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. He enlisted in the National Guard and, in the following decade, was deployed on three combat tours in Iraq.
During that time, many changes occurred – both nationally and locally – including an economic downturn and a buyout at Mr. Kerpovich’s employer of 23 years.
Recognizing that he needed to adapt his skill set, Mr. Kerpovich began exploring the programs offered by Luzerne County Community College, specifically an engineering, design and manufacturing associate degree. This type of expertise would allow him to mastermind spaces and, perhaps one day, fulfill his dream of owning a business.
“Being a little older, I really didn’t want to attend a four-year college,” said Mr. Kerpovich. “I choose Luzerne County Community College which was right in my backyard. I’m currently using my veteran benefits to pay for school, and the quality education I’m receiving will ultimately train me for in-demand careers right here in Northeast Pennsylvania.”
With a hands-on internship in his field and plans to graduate in the spring of 2020, Mr. Kerpovich says he couldn’t be happier with his choice of college.
“Luzerne County Community College has some of the brightest and most knowledgeable instructors I’ve ever met – and I was once trained at Fort Knox,” Mr. Kerpovich explained. “The college has state-of-the-art real industrial grade equipment so we can train and be prepared for real world achievement. Community colleges set people like me up for success, and for that I’m very grateful.”
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, we thank Mr. Kerpovich and all active duty military, veterans and their family members for their sacrifice. In the 2017-18 academic year, more than 4,000 veterans attended Pennsylvania community colleges, many of which have recognized student veteran organizations on campus.
During her senior year of high school in 2017, Jenna Stevens hadn’t planned to continue her education after graduation – until the sudden realization struck her that she might need a postsecondary degree to succeed. As an average student, Jenna wasn’t even sure she could get into a college or university; but when she discovered Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, Jenna found where she belonged.
“Knowing that Pennsylvania is one of the most expensive states for higher education and with concerns about the ballooning national student debt, affordability was very important to me,” recounted Jenna. “Penn Highlands offered so much more than a reasonably priced education – it offered me the opportunity to excel, to lead.”
Jenna Stevens graduated with honors from Penn Highlands as part of the college’s largest graduating class during the Commencement Ceremony on May 11th. As a nominee for distinguished graduate, Jenna is involved in more than 30 volunteer or campus-related activities that have allowed her to develop the leadership skills she believes will help her succeed in life.
“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities community college has afforded me,” she said. “I wish more people would consider starting their higher education journey at a community college. I was given so many opportunities and didn’t have to sacrifice quality for affordability.”
Research suggests that Pennsylvania college students could save up to $20,000 on the cost of a bachelor’s degree by enrolling at a community college for the first two years.
With aspirations of being a lawyer or an ‘outside-of-the-box’ teacher, Jenna plans to continue her education this fall at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She is a first generation college student on her mother’s side of the family and she says she wants to be a person on which her family can rely.
“I grew up watching my mom’s family struggle in customer service jobs. I didn’t want that to be me,” Jenna explained. “Part of the reason I’d like to be a teacher is to improve on the ‘book, lesson, test’ educational structure imposed on today’s students. I want to move away from standardization and memorization, and teach principles and ideas to a generation of students who can change the world.”
Pennsylvania Community College Students Recognized
for Academic Achievements at Harrisburg Awards Banquet
PA Commission for Community Colleges Celebrates 25 Years of Honoring Pennsylvania Students
The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) honored the 25th Annual All-Pennsylvania Academic Team at an awards banquet in Harrisburg today. The awards recognize an exceptional group of community college students who have achieved academic excellence and demonstrated a commitment to their colleges and communities.
The 2019 awardees include 47 outstanding community college transfer scholars and eight exceptional workforce scholars from across the Commonwealth. Transfer students must have completed at least 36 credits at a community college and must have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher to be considered for these awards. Workforce students must have a minimum of 12 college-level credit hours at a community college and a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.
“We applaud these outstanding student scholars on their terrific academic achievements,” said Elizabeth Bolden, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “By enrolling in high-quality educational or workforce programs at a community college, these students are building a foundation for a successful career while furthering their postsecondary study.”
Pennsylvania’s community colleges partner with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities to provide scholarships to All-PA Transfer Team members at PASSHE institutions, providing two years of tuition at any PASSHE school.
The students receiving the highest All-USA Community College Team application scores in each state are named the Coca-Cola New Century Transfer Scholar and the Coca-Cola New Century Workforce Pathways Scholar. Northampton Community College student Michelle Tatosian is this year’s recipient of the transfer honor, which comes with a $2,250 scholarship from the Coca-Cola Educational Foundation. Community College of Allegheny County student Deawna Alfonsi is the recipient of this year’s workforce honor, which comes with a $1,250 scholarship from the Coca-Cola Educational Foundation.
The Pennsylvania transfer awardees also include five Coca-Cola Silver Scholars who will receive $1,250 scholarships and two Coca-Cola Bronze Scholars who will receive $1,000 scholarships.
The All-USA Community College Academic Team is sponsored by Follett Higher Education Group, a leading provider of college and university bookstore services, with additional support provided by Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The New Century Scholars program is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Foundation, Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, PTK and the AACC.
Students nominated to the national All-USA Community College Academic Team are automatically named to the All-State Community College Academic Teams. The programs share common eligibility criteria, which includes enrollment at a community college, a minimum 3.5 grade point average, completion of a minimum of 36 college-level credits, and being on track to receive an associate or bachelor’s degree.
The following students are members of the All-Pennsylvania Academic Transfer and Workforce Teams:
Community College of Allegheny County
- Deawna Alfonsi, New Century Workforce Scholar
- Brooke Allen
- Douglas Cole
- Ronald Joseph
- Matthew Konvalin
- Abigail Manges
- Tyler Omune
- Nicole Russell
- Georgios Sotiriou
Community College of Beaver County
- Eric Taylor
- Herney Valdez
Bucks County Community College
- Greta Chavey
- Jacob Marquard
- Vincent Taylor
Butler County Community College
- Matthew Reitler, Coca-Cola Silver Scholar
- Claire Rodgers
Delaware County Community College
- Em Mirra, Coca-Cola Silver Scholar
- Zun Phyu Thant
Harrisburg Area Community College
- Willis Boykin
- Corinne Crushong
- Sharonda Diggs
- Blasia Drumm
- Bryanna Harmon
- Mark Humphries
- Gibson Theobald, Coca-Cola Silver Scholar
Lehigh Carbon Community College
- Mindy Berky
- Kira Williams
Luzerne County Community College
- Dagmar Frias
- Sharra Walton
Montgomery County Community College
- Katherine Araya
- Barry Hunsberger
- Ezinne Ottih
- Zachary Perales
- Kaitlyn Stewart
Northampton Community College
- Na-Quasia Dickerson
- Cody Geddings
- Kendall Lewczak
- Kayla Marsdale, Coca-Cola Silver Scholar
- Michelle Tatosian, New Century Transfer Scholar
Pennsylvania Highlands Community College
- Taylor Beneke
- Anthony Cornetti
- Christina Evans
- Lisa Ferko
- Augusta Hay
- Jacqlyn Knox
- Oliver Lindrose, Coca-Cola Bronze Scholar
- Tiffaney Smith, Coca-Cola Bronze Scholar
Community College of Philadelphia
- Veronica Holloway
- Terrance Meacham
Reading Area Community College
- Judith Croteau, Coca-Cola Silver Scholar
- Patricia Wright
- Sherry Yost
Westmoreland County Community College
- Bradley Dupree
- Lauren Felix
- Megan Polash
Pennsylvania ranks 48th in affordability for higher education in the United States
HARRISBURG — At the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges’ Annual Lobby Day at the Capitol today, students, trustees, presidents and staff from Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges joined together to advocate for an increased funding level in the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
The budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf does not provide an operating or capital funding increase for the colleges, despite being the largest provider of public postsecondary education in the Commonwealth and a sector that plays a significant role in the Commonwealth’s education and workforce development systems.
“As a community college graduate, I know first-hand the great value that a community college can add to a person – it truly enables an individual to do anything,” said Andrew Helmer, vice president of Human Resources at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts and HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, graduate. “Now that I’m the vice president of Human Resources for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, I look to community colleges to train the workers we hire.”
Pennsylvania community colleges offer high-quality education and workforce programs aligned with areas of critical workforce needs across the Commonwealth. The 14 colleges regularly consult with business partners – such as Shell in western Pennsylvania, Greiner Packaging in eastern Pennsylvania and AMES Reese in central Pennsylvania – to develop programs to meet state and local workforce needs, while fueling Pennsylvania’s economic recovery. The colleges also educate the Commonwealth’s firefighters, healthcare workers, welders and truck drivers, as well as offering much needed training in other in-demand fields.
In the 2017-18 academic year, Pennsylvania’s community colleges enrolled more than 300,000 students from all 67 counties in the state. They also provided a foundation for nearly 35,000 students who sought transfer to four-year institutions, saving these students up to $20,000 on the cost of higher education.
“When I graduated from high school in 2013, I was in the top 15 in my class. I wouldn’t be able to continue my own education if it wasn’t for academic scholarships,” said Nicole Russell, student of the Community College of Allegheny County. “If we want Pennsylvania to be a great state, we must invest in young Pennsylvanians – we are the future of this state and country. An investment in our youth starts with an investment in community colleges.”
In his budget address, Gov. Wolf indicated that Pennsylvania needs to address the skills gap to ensure that Pennsylvania has a well-trained workforce. He established a goal of 60 percent of Pennsylvania residents having some form of postsecondary education by 2025. Today, community college advocates from across Pennsylvania encouraged Gov. Wolf and policymakers to leverage the experience and expertise of community colleges to meet these goals.
In addition to today’s rally at the Capitol, Pennsylvania community college students spent the day visiting with their local legislators to advocate on behalf of the community colleges’ FY 19-20 budget request. The colleges also set up interactive displays highlighting the varied, cutting-edge programs that community college students in Pennsylvania are studying, including nursing, manufacturing and STEM programs. These interactive displays included a manufacturing simulator, health screenings by nursing students and other engaging activities.
“Pennsylvania community colleges are ready to assist individuals who want to improve their lives by earning a certificate, enrolling in technical training, attaining an associate degree or preparing for further education,” said Elizabeth Bolden, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “The colleges are committed to increasing access to quality, affordable higher education in the Commonwealth. We hope the General Assembly will support us in this mission by increasing funding for community colleges.”
In 2015, Chelsey Sirmons IV decided to change his life. Taking advantage of the Pennsylvania State Grant distance education pilot program, he was able to enroll at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in 2017 and begin reshaping his future.
In long-term recovery himself, Mr. Sirmons started at CCAC by pursuing a certificate in the college’s drug and alcohol program. He is now continuing his education, working towards his associate degree with plans to transfer to Chatham University after graduation and possibly attain a master’s degree thereafter.
“I think it’s time for me to help other people,” said Mr. Sirmons. “Educating myself and becoming a social worker, it’s one way for me to give back.”
The social work program is just one of nearly 20 associate degrees CCAC plans to offer in the fall 2019 semester that can be completed entirely online, in addition to many more that can be completed partially online. Students from anywhere can enroll in these courses because they do not need to physically travel to a location to access education, removing a major barrier some students face.
Mr. Sirmons receives grant money to subsidize some of the cost of his education through a distance education pilot program administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA.
“The grant makes everything more affordable. Without the grant, I’d have to take out — and eventually pay off — more student loans,” shared Mr. Sirmons. “Being a nontraditional student, distance education allows me to complete assignments on my time and improves my state of mind. My family is proud of me.”
During the State Grant distance education pilot program, increasing numbers of students at Pennsylvania’s community colleges sought financial assistance through the program, with 7,690 students receiving more than $7 million to support their postsecondary attainment goals. Act 5 of 2018 allows students who enroll in online programs to access the State Grant Program, thereby providing financial support to many thousand more Commonwealth students.
Because of this, the demand for online coursework has risen significantly. Pennsylvania community colleges were quick to respond, collectively establishing more than 150 programs that can be completed entirely online.
The PHEAA Board of Directors will vote March 21 on whether to fully integrate distance education into the Pennsylvania State Grant Program. Integration will help ensure that Pennsylvania-based institutions — including the Commonwealth’s community colleges — remain an affordable option for Pennsylvania students. Without full integration, students may be denied the financial support they need to access postsecondary study simply because they choose to enroll in an online course.
“Even though I don’t physically go to the campus, I’m still a student enrolled at CCAC,” said Mr. Sirmons. “I deserve access to the same grant funds as every other Pennsylvania student.”
Responses provided by Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr.’s Office
A: As a leader in education, I recognize that the future of our economy and workforce are dependent upon a highly trained and qualified employee. I support funding for Community Colleges and the expansion of existing, and development of new, career pathways for students.
Q: What knowledge, background or skills do you bring to the Community College Caucus?
A: I am a former professor having spent 14 years in the classroom. In addition, I have been the Chairman of the House Democratic Education Committee for the past 18 years, as well as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Community College of Philadelphia and have been actively involved in the issues facing our Community Colleges.
Q: How would you describe the impact of community colleges in your district and statewide?
A: Community colleges provide young people with a foundation on which to build successful lives. It affords them the opportunity to better themselves and to reach their dreams.
Q: What motivates you to improve access to education in Pennsylvania?
A: If we want to keep up with the ever-changing workforce, Pennsylvania needs to prioritize increasing attainment of education certificates and associates degrees for our working families. Community Colleges help achieve that by providing the most affordable options for students to obtain a degree.
Q: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing community colleges in the Commonwealth?
A: One issue facing community colleges is keeping the students in school until graduation. The primary challenge is remedial students who struggle at the beginning of their college career, and shortly give up and drop out before completing their degree. We need to close the gap! Students need to come ready to learn.
Across the board, the price of attending college has risen dramatically in recent years. While Community college has been the most affordable option, they are no longer the exception to this trend.
Q: Anything else?
A: Investing in higher education, and in community colleges in particular, is one of the best investments a state can make. Pennsylvania needs to improve its investment in its community colleges to ensure they remain an accessible and affordable pathway to higher education for students.
Her oldest son, who was nine at the time, knew his Mom dreamed of going to college. One day he made her a promise. “When I go to college, I’ll pay for you, Mom.”
Around that same time, Ms. Bible’s hands began experiencing an adverse reaction to chemicals used in the metal coating process. She knew it was time for a change.
Inspired by her son, she enrolled in Community College of Beaver County. Thanks to the college’s KEYS Program, Ms. Bible had help with transportation, cash assistance and an advocate who could help her education journey.
“As a Mom, things came up. I’m not a traditional student, but the KEYS Program at CCBC allowed me to succeed,” said Ms. Bible.
KEYS Programs, which are overseen by the PA Department of Human Services, operate at community colleges across the Commonwealth. Most offer local resources for financial literacy, transportation, food assistance, domestic violence intervention, clothing, child care and mental health services. The aim of the KEYS Program is to address barriers that prevent students from becoming successful and financially secure.
Ms. Bible is currently enrolled in the business administration program at CCBC, with plans to transfer to a four-year institution following graduation. She is excelling in her classwork, recently becoming a member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society.
“I made my son proud,” she said. “I’m grateful for the KEYS Program – I wouldn’t have been a successful student without it.”