The community college effort that has been underway for the last two-and-a-half years has divided our community. I have heard from many constituents and from community leaders, and I have polled on this issue on Facebook and by direct mail.
From what I have heard, it appears there are three prevailing camps on this topic:
- Some feel Erie County deserves a community college — regardless of the associated costs.
- Some say Erie County needs a community college — but they are concerned that it would place a significant financial burden on taxpayers.
- A third group — and I would say the largest one by far — are those who said that a community college is not essential and as such they are adamantly against paying for one.
As your State Senator, I have listened to all parties and I have diligently worked to find a practical solution, just as I try to do with all issues facing the Erie community.
In this case, the best solution – one that answers the community college advocates as well as those who are against the proposal — is a compromise that I helped broker with the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC).
This compromise took the NPRC model of delivery and adjusted it to more appropriately fit our region’s specific needs. It would provide a local campus-based setting in an existing building. This campus would accommodate classroom-based studies and have hands-on lab facilities and a workforce development component. The Governor, to his credit, has been a partner in this effort and agreed to invest $15 million into providing state-of-the-art workforce development training.
This was the compromise that the County Executive helped finalize and sent as a Memorandum of Agreement to County Council for approval, and more importantly required no local share.
As most of you know, County Council responded by drafting a new Memorandum of Agreement, which ended the talks with the NPRC. At that point, the County Executive, County Council and Empower Erie re-ignited the proposal for a separate, stand-alone community college.
On November 13 and 14, the Pennsylvania Department of Education held hearings and decided that before ruling on the application for a new community college, they would first hold a hearing in Erie to collect public input.
After this hearing, the Department of Education will then either approve or deny the application. I have sent a letter to the Governor to expedite the hearing process and requested it be held in Erie at its next meeting in January.
If the application is denied, I will work to put the compromise back together — an arrangement that requires no local share tax dollars and includes the $15 million that the Governor would invest in a state-of-the-art campus.
If the application is approved, I have a creative solution to fund the local share that would ease the financial burden on local taxpayers. I propose the creation of a unique revitalization zone around the community college site that would provide the funding to help cover the local share. This arrangement would, of course, require cooperation from the Mayor and the Governor. I believe this revitalization zone should be created in either case as a way to fund and promote our local economic development efforts.
In closing, I appreciate all of the comments I have received from everyone on this issue and I hope that once we have a decision from the Department, we can work together to ensure that our citizens have access to quality higher education here in our community.
Contact: Matt Azeles firstname.lastname@example.org