Students Rally for Support of Community Colleges in Harrisburg

Students from Montgomery County Community College attended Lobby Day in Harrisburg to advocate for funding of community colleges. Photo by Alana Mauger

Students from Montgomery County Community College attended Lobby Day in Harrisburg to advocate for funding of community colleges. Photo by Alana Mauger

When Natalya Martin of Phoenixville graduates with her associate’s degree in Liberal Studies from Montgomery County Community College next month, she will have zero student debt.

The 21-year-old MCCC Honors Program student was proud to share this fact with legislators in Harrisburg on April 14, when hundreds of students trekked to the state capitol to rally for support for the Commonwealth’s 14 community colleges, as part of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community College’s Annual Lobby Day. Eighteen Montgomery County Community College students spent the day with legislators advocating for support by sharing information about the value of their education.

Community colleges are asking for support of Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget that recommends an additional $15 million in operating funds for fiscal year 2015-16. The increase will allow community colleges to continue to offer quality academic and workforce training programs.

According to the PA Commission, in the 2013-14 academic year, Pennsylvania’s community colleges enrolled 344,000 students from the 67 counties in the Commonwealth, making community colleges the largest providers of higher education in Pennsylvania.

Last year, Pennsylvania’s community colleges awarded more than 14,000 associate’s degrees and 2,700 certificates and other credentials. More than 54 percent of these degrees and awards were in high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields.

Like the majority of these community college graduates, Martin will be pursuing a STEM career. In fall 2015, she plans to study neuroscience at Bryn Mawr College, as part of the College’s transfer program with Bryn Mawr.

“I never would have had the opportunity to attend this prestigious college without going to MCCC first,” Martin said. “I was able to discover my true potential at the College.”

For first-generation college student Kayla Burnham, 20, of North Wales, the College provided her the place and time she needed to become acclimated to college life before she starts at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall.

“It’s been a great stepping stone before I go to a four-year college,” said Burnham, who also graduates next month. “I had the opportunity to stay home, save money and graduate with an associate’s degree debt free. It’s been a great experience.”

Similarly Daniel Boyd, 25, West Chester, chose MCCC to minimize the cost of his long-term education plans, which include going to Georgetown University to earn a dual Juris Doctor/Master of Science degree in Foreign Service.

“I know I will be saddled with debt when I continue my education, but I am glad I am able to contain it now,” he said, adding that the professors at the College have been instrumental in guiding him with his courses and education options.

Music major Madison Devlin, 18, Collegeville, agrees. “MCCC is my best option because careers in music or musical theater typically do not pay large salaries. I don’t want to incur ridiculous amounts of debt when I won’t be able to earn enough to pay it off.”

For engineering student Nicholas Silva, 20, Lansdale, the College provided the second chance he needed for his education. “With the support of faculty, I was able to improve my performance in the classroom, and I got involved on campus, leading the engineering club and running for the presidential spot with the Student Government Association,” he told State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf.

“I appreciate that you are keeping community colleges and funding for them in mind,” said Aaliah Tucker, 20, Pottstown, to Representatives Kate Harper and Michael Vereb. “Investing in community colleges means more jobs in Pennsylvania, so it really is an investment in the future for everyone.”

Montgomery students who participated in Lobby Day included: Daniel Boyd, West Chester; Kayla Burnham, North Wales; Madison Devlin, Collegeville; Christina Goodwin Laws, Philadelphia; Melanie Hagen, Telford; Seth Hartley, Souderton; Heidi Hunsberger, Norristown; David Jordan, North Wales; Dansel Laningin, Norristown; Alexis Price, Stroudsburg; Gabrielle Scotti, Lansdale; Andrew Severns, Horsham; Rachel Lightstone, Eagleville; Natayla Martin, Phoenixville; Nicholas Silva, Lansdale; Angela Tate, Roslyn; Aaliah Tucker, Pottstown; and Charis Yoo, Souderton.

~ by Diane VanDyke

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