Montgomery County Community College Students Rally in Harrisburg

by Diane VanDyke

Twenty Montgomery County Community College students accompanied College President Dr. Karen Stout to Harrisburg on April 3 to ask legislators to support capital funding for community colleges.

Currently, Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for 2012-13 does not provide capital funding for community colleges, although it includes $150 million commitment for capital funding for state colleges and universities and state-related universities. This is the fourth year the state’s 14 communities colleges have not received any capital dollars.

Meanwhile, enrollment continues to grow at community colleges, as students seek affordable college education and as displaced workers, like John D. McKillip Sr., Gilbertsville, seek new skills and training for re-employment.

Laid off by his employer and unable to find a job without a degree, McKillip decided to start a new career and enrolled in the College’s Radiography program.

However, as he noted in his speech during the rally opening on the rotunda steps, radiography equipment, as well as other technology and modern classrooms, requires capital funding.

“The technology in my future profession is constantly changing and improving, providing patients with state-of-the-art medical care. If community colleges are not afforded funding to keep up with this type of technology, residents in the state of Pennsylvania will suffer with an underprepared medical workforce.”

John D. McKillip Sr. speaks about the need for capital funding for community colleges during the April 3 Lobby Day opening program on the capitol’s rotunda steps in Harrisburg. Photo by Diane VanDyke

President of Community College of Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges Dr. Alex Johnson, as well as other student speakers, echoed McKillip’s statements.

“We cannot continue to train and educate students for jobs of the future in classrooms that resemble the past… Throughout the state, employers are asking community colleges to design courses and curriculum around their needs for workers, however funding limitations have not allowed for this growth,” Dr. Johnson said.

Following the rally,  students visited legislators to advocate for capital funding. Participants were: Christopher Bickings, Birdsboro; Christine Chiodo, Glenside; Emily Curry, Cheltenham; Jade Countryman, Macungie; Jesse Evans, Lower Gwynedd; Brian Gallie, Pottstown; Traveon Henry, Collegeville; Brittany Jones, Norristown; James Lavin, Pennsburg; Ben Litman, Harleysville; John McKillip, Gilbertsville; Sarah Munson, Harleysville; Emily Phipps, Blue Bell; William Reynolds, Gilbertsville; Shanae Roberts, Limerick; John Roddenberry, Pottstown; Dominga Rush, Pottstown; Rebecca Stern, Norristown; Jessica Stewart, Pottstown; and Iris Wang, Norristown.

During the visits, the students shared their experiences at the College.

“Most of us work full-time or part-time jobs while we go to college,” said Sarah Munson, Harleysville, to Sen. Robert Mensch. “As a result, we already have strong work ethics. This is the type of work ethic you want for America’s workforce, and the type you want to invest in.”

For Gilbertsville resident William Reynolds, the College enables him to step out poverty.

“I grew up in a family that lived on welfare,” he said. “The College is giving me the opportunity to improve and break the poverty cycle. The money you invest in community colleges will help save money that you would have had to spend on other programs. Community colleges help people like me have better lives.”

As more students find opportunities at community colleges, the increased enrollment puts a strain on the facilities. The lack of capital funding prevents the College from moving forward with much-needed projects to support highly demanded, growing programs.

At the Central Campus in Blue Bell, the College needs funds to renovate the Physical Education Center into a Health and Wellness building to update and house the health and physical sciences, including the Nursing, Dental Hygiene and Medical Assisting programs.

At West Campus in Pottstown, the College needs funds to complete the proposed Environmental Science classrooms and laboratories in the former PECO building at 140 College Drive.

Collectively, Pennsylvania’s community colleges have a list of shovel-ready projects that exceed $100 million.

“Not one of these projects will move forward under the Governor’s budget proposal,” Dr. Johnson noted.

Students on the steps outside of the Capitol building in Harrisburg. Photo by Diane VanDyke

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