State committee hears community college debate

There are 14 community colleges in Pennsylvania. Erie County is the state’s most populous region without one.

The State Board of Education appointed a special committee to offer recommendations on whether the county can sustain the proposed school.

Dr. Lee Williams, chair of the committee, said, "But now, they have to make their case. Is there really the need? Do they really have the money? Is there really demand? Is this not a duplication of services?"

Making their case is exactly what they’re doing. 

During a public hearing Tuesday at the Raymond M. Blasco Memorial Library, nearly 50 members of the community shared their thoughts.

Erie School District superintendent Brian Polito said, "Given our demographics, we strongly believe there needs to be low-cost post-secondary options for our students."

Edinboro University president Dr. Fred Walker also gave a message of support. He said, "Having earned bachelor's, master's, Ph.D. in the public system, and I was a community college student, this is a needed product and service offering in this area."

But some were concerned about costs. Other people argued that the region’s existing trade schools and universities suffice.

Lawrence Brown said, "The majority of the students that graduate from our colleges would like to stay here, if there were jobs here for them."

The community college would combat poverty and the brain drain and improve access to higher education, according to county officials.

Gary Lee, director of Erie County, said, "We think that it is very important that Harrisburg hears that we have a need and a demand in Erie County for a community college, and what better way to hear that from the citizens."

The public hearing was not a requirement of the application process. Lee said the County requested the event so that the committee could hear directly from the community. The committee will compile information and present its recommendation to the Board of Education.

Dr. Williams said it could be a year before the board votes on the plan.
 


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