The Erie Times-News Editorial Board recently published an opinion piece on the Erie Community College application before the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. I fully agree with the statement included by an Erie civil rights leader who said, “We need a bridge to get our young people there. We need access to a low-cost, quality education.”
It has long been my view that it is crucial for students in all areas of our Commonwealth to have access to affordable higher educational opportunities. Every area. Not just in Erie, not just in Philadelphia – but in every region of Pennsylvania. With the funding challenges facing higher education today, and the unsustainability of many higher educational institutions trying to keep their doors open, it would be fiscally irresponsible for Pennsylvania to establish another community college.
Despite a continued push by Erie County Council and Empower Erie for a new community college, it is vital to recognize that Erie County already has a two-year institution — the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC). The NPRC model of serving multiple counties is an innovative move toward future success of higher education. NPRC continues to grow and deepen its roots in communities throughout Cameron, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Potter, Venango, and Warren Counties. Erie County should be working closely with the NPRC to ensure the college is establishing the curriculum that is needed to meet Erie’s workforce. Trying to circumvent the NPRC is shortsighted.
It is immensely troubling that Erie County Council and Empower Erie have chosen to hire Harrisburg lobbyists and push their agenda while actively suppressing county taxpayers from having an opportunity to appear at the State Board of Education’s hearing in March. By opposing the petition to intervene from Erie resident Brent Davis, Erie County has blocked area taxpayers from having their voice heard. That is not transparency and this approach does not serve Erie residents or taxpayers well.
A recent survey completed in December sheds light on the sentiment of taxpayers. Erie County voters fundamentally support the NPRC and its live interactive video technology format. In a recent survey, the NPRC posted an impressive 2-to-1 favorability rating. Conversely, less than half of voters support “the build out of a brick and mortar, standalone community college in Erie County.” Furthermore, most supporters waver when asked if they would still support the community college “if taxes were increased to fund a portion of the school” (56% said they could not support it or were not sure). It is clear that taxpayers simply do not believe an Erie County Community College is necessary.
According to Erie’s own application, “The Erie Community Foundation has promised $3.7 million would be available for start-up and operational costs. In addition, further funding is anticipated through an estimated $2.95 million in existing gaming revenue funds, as well as nearly $1 million more in gaming revenue funds expected to be available in 2021.” This totals over $7.5 million that should be used to support students in Erie.
I suggest the Erie Community Foundation use this financial pledge to create an Erie County Student Scholarship Fund to support the education of Erie students who attend the NPRC. This is the perfect fit. Between the current Commonwealth support for the NPRC and with Foundation assistance in Erie County, students in Erie would be able to attend community college for free. This would mean no tax increases for Erie taxpayers and no tuition costs for Erie students.
Sustainable higher education institutions are paramount for the future of Pennsylvania. I look forward to the State Board of Higher Education closely examining this matter and making a decision that is in the best interest of Erie and our entire Commonwealth. It is long past time for all involved in this matter to find a bridge to respect Erie taxpayers while also providing increased access to higher education. I can think of no greater victory for the residents of Erie than free two-year degrees. Let’s come together to do what is in the best interest of students and taxpayers – not continue to create more bloated government. #FreeErieTaxpayers #FreeTuition #EveryoneWins