Community colleges throughout the state may soon have new sources of funding.
A bill tabled in the Pennsylvania State Senate aims to “take a comprehensive look at our community college affordability,” Sen. John Yudichak (D-Carbon, Monroe, Luzerne), a co-sponsor of the bill, said.
Senate Bill 360, sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Backs, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton), aims to create a Pennsylvania Community College Affordability Advisory Council within the state’s Department of Education.
The advisory council “shall examine and make recommendations regarding the viability and sustainability of the current college funding model,” according to the bill.
The current funding model aims to limit the cost for students to no more than one-third of the total educational cost. Of the 14 community colleges throughout the commonwealth, 10 are sponsored by local towns or counties, and four are sponsored by local school districts.
This advisory council would consist of 21 members, including the Secretary of Labor & Industry and the Secretary of Education, who would chair the advisory council, according to the bill. The council will also have two state senators and two state representatives as members, as appointed by president pro tempore of the Senate and speaker of the House, respectively.
Gov. Tom Corbett will appoint one county commissioner from one of the community-college-sponsoring counties, one school board member from a sponsoring school district, two members of the business community and one representative of a community education council, according to the bill. Corbett will also appoint two students and two faculty members from the state’s community colleges to the council.
The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges will also play a role in shaping the council by appointing six representatives from community colleges, including four college presidents and two community college board of trustees members.
A 2012 National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report showed that 14.4 percent of students who were college freshmen in fall 2005 had “reversed transferred” — the term used when a student originally enrolled in a four-year institution transfers to a two-year institution, usually a community college.
James Linksz, interim executive director of the PCCC, said there are many reasons why students might “reverse transfer” — mainly financial, academic and emotional issues.
Linksz said the PCCC advocates for community colleges in the commonwealth by working directly with legislators. He said the original funding model called for a “shared responsibility” for covering the cost of education. He added that the PCCC supports the bill 100 percent.
In 2005, Linksz said there was a budget of $214 million to help pay for the 110,767 students who attended community college that year. In 2010, the budget increased to $235 million for 133,000 students, a small increase, but not proportional to the increase in students, Linksz said.
Funding in 2012 declined to $212 million, about the same level as in 2004 and 2005, he said.
“It is important to know that the current system is not really functioning as well as it was envisioned in 1964,” Linksz said.
The breakdown of tuition at Lehigh Carbon Community College shows that the current funding model is not working, according to statistics provided by Sean Dallas, executive director of Marketing & Communications at LCCC.
For LCCC, its 13 sponsoring school districts contribute 10.7 percent of the total educational cost, while state funding accounts for another 32 percent. Grants and other financial aid programs cover an additional 10.2 percent. Students are required to cover the rest, or 47.1 percent, of the tuition costs, much higher than the intended cost to students.