Putting Pennsylvanians to work

Posted: January 29, 2013

By Stephen M. Curtis, Jerome S. Parker, Stephanie Shanblatt, and Karen A. Stout

Federal economists estimate that two million jobs go unfilled today as a result of skills, training, and education gaps. In Pennsylvania, a report submitted last year by the governor's Manufacturing Advisory Council noted that the number of new workers entering the industry, coupled with the growth in manufacturing, has left a staggering gap of available skilled workers.

Simply put: Every decent-paying job today takes more skill and more education, but too many Americans are not ready. And about 1.5 million job vacancies in the country require workers with more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree.

For 50 years, the state's 14 community colleges have served this niche. They are the best avenue to education and training, and, given the appropriate resources, our institutions can be the solution to Pennsylvania's skills gap.

Filling that gap is an ongoing - and growing - challenge. Many millennials - the 18- to 34-year-olds who make up the largest share of community college students in the region - look to our schools to give them a fighting chance in a brutal economy. Many veterans returning from overseas come to us for retraining and reemployment. Yet state budget constraints are restricting what our schools can provide.

At stake are class mobility and access. "If we don't fully fund postsecondary education, we are destroying the social contract," Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, told The Inquirer last year. "Education is the key to the social contract."

Community colleges are the most affordable and accessible pathway to the baccalaureate. A recent study by the American Association of Community Colleges found that more than one-quarter of those who earn a bachelor's degree began their studies at a community college and transferred to a four-year institution. Nearly half of bachelor's degree recipients take at least one course at a community college. Students who transfer from a community college to a four-year institution not only save money, but research shows they are just as successful as those who begin at a four-year institution.

As Gov. Corbett finalizes his proposed budget, we ask him to consider what's at stake. So much hinges on equipping community colleges with much-needed resources: the competitiveness of our state, the ability of businesses to thrive, and the chance for students to become valuable workers. A strategic investment in community colleges is more important than ever.

We need the communities we serve to speak up and let elected officials know that our graduates make the commonwealth strong. We are ready to expand our efforts in closing the skills gap and getting Pennsylvanians back to work, but we need the state to be a supportive partner.

Stephen M. Curtis is president of Community College of Philadelphia. Jerome S. Parker is president of Delaware County Community College. Stephanie Shanblatt is president of Bucks County Community College. Karen A. Stout is president of Montgomery County Community College.

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