by Alana J. Mauger
Montgomery County Community College President Dr. Karen A. Stout testified before the Pa. House Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg on Feb. 20 on the issue of community college funding for Fiscal Year 2014-15. She joined Pa. Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) President and CEO Elizabeth A. Bolden and Butler County Community College President Dr. Nick Neupauer, who also serves as PACCC’s Board Chairman.
Together the three leaders testified about the critical need for increased operating and capital funding for the Commonwealth’s 14 community colleges. Governor Corbett’s proposed FY 14-15 budget does not include any increase in the community college operating appropriation. If approved, this will be the fourth consecutive year of flat funding in operating following a 10 percent funding cut five years ago. Allowing for inflation, the recommended appropriation is $12 million below the necessary level.
During her testimony, Dr. Stout revealed that, if the proposed budget is passed, MCCC will receive less in operating dollars in FY 14-15 than eight years ago.
“The operating efficiencies used to manage these cuts have already been implemented, and gains from them already realized and exhausted,” she said in her testimony. “Even modest tuition increases are difficult for our students to manage. Last year, we deregistered more than 2,500 students for non-payment. Approximately half return to us at some point, but half are shut out of higher education, even with Pell and PHEAA grants.”
Three MCCC students – Octavia Beyah, Tyler Tucker and Elizabeth Waddell – accompanied Dr. Stout to Harrisburg to lend their support to Pennsylvania’s community colleges.
Beyah, a first-generation college student, is funding her own education. She started her journey at a four-year university, but reverse transferred to MCCC to graduate without debt. Likewise, Tucker chose to attend MCCC to balance life and work to avoid early debt; she aspires to be an appellate court judge. And Waddell comes from a single parent household and acknowledges that education tends to go on the “back burner” when living paycheck to paycheck.
“Students like Octavia, Tyler and Elizabeth build the economic and civic capacity of our community, one dream fulfilled at a time,” shared Dr. Stout in her testimony.
Stout went on to share how the economic impact of MCCC’s students extends to all Pennsylvania residents. For example, taxpayers, see a return rate of 7.2 percent on their investment, and every one dollar of state and local tax money invested in the College yields a cumulative $21.60 in benefits that accrue to all Pennsylvania residents in terms of added taxable income and avoided social costs.
“Fifty years ago, a group of visionary State and local leaders from across the Commonwealth passed the Community College Act, and with it, a commitment to invest in the hopes, dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to access affordable, high quality, transfer education and workforce training programs that could lead them into the middle class and thus build the quality of life and civic development and economic competitiveness of Pennsylvania. Over these 50 years, nearly 400,000 Montgomery County residents have benefitted from access to these programs. The ripple effect of those attending – on our community – is multi-generational,” shared Dr. Stout.
In addition to restoring operating funds, Bolden and PACCC asked the House Appropriations Committee for capital funding to be increased in order to address the $726 million in documented infrastructure improvements for the State’s 14 community colleges over the next five years. As it stands now, the Governor’s proposed budget calls for a $1 million cut in capital.