Empower Erie News & Updates

Why we’re voting for community college: Breneman, Fatica, Horton, Leone

Posted on June 27th, 2017 at 2:00 AM
  

The following article was submitted by Erie County Council members Jay Breneman, Kathy Fatica, Andre Horton and Fiore Leone. County Council is scheduled to vote today on the county sponsoring a proposed community college.

This past year, our county embarked on a familiar journey toward the establishment of a community college. With the backing of Erie’s philanthropic community and County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County Council passed a resolution to study the need for a community college, and we opened our chambers to comment and question.

Since then, we have learned a lot. The work done by Empower Erie gave us a fresh snapshot of Erie County’s workforce, its economy, and the current education system. The process has been thoughtful, deliberate and transparent. The work to study the community college has enlightened us to the wide public support across the county and affirmed what we already suspected: Erie County needs this community college.

The feasibility study of the college made a striking assertion that helped bring this issue into focus for us. “The previous feasibility study asserted that a community college was needed then and current research shows that it is needed now. It is impossible to quantify how it might have helped Erie navigate the waters through the Great Recession, through major layoffs at some of Erie’s largest employers or respond to businesses demanding a skilled and trained workforce, but Erie’s current economic, education and employment climate would be well-served by a local community college.”

What if we had acted then? Since 2010, when we last explored the establishment of a community college, our economic environment is far worse; worse than before and worse than we could have even imagined at the time as some of our oldest companies have taken flight. Since then, further deterioration of the manufacturing base and an increased poverty rate have left us vulnerable, while a large population of young people lost out on an opportunity to access a community college and a remarkable number of midcareer friends have searched for direction without the benefit of a community college.

Today we will vote for the community college because the time has come to act. Erie’s next generation of leaders deserve to have access to an education system anchored by a community college, and there are so many of our neighbors who are still weathering this economic transition who need access to open, affordable postsecondary education to thrive in the new economy.

For the first time in American history, it is incredibly likely that the generation behind us will not do as well economically as our generation. This community college will change outcomes, attract new jobs, and help lift up some of our neighbors, family members, and all of Erie County’s children. The forward progress of generations is a goal we as elected officials, neighbors, fathers, mothers, grandparents and fellow Erieites must begin to collectively pursue and always keep in our sights.

There is a viable pathway toward implementation this time around as the Erie Community Foundation has made a $3.7 million commitment to help jump-start the community college, and there is a plan to fund it that does not require a tax increase. There is a coalition of leaders, including the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, Erie Regional Manufacturing Partnership, Manufacturer and Business Association, Erie-Crawford Central Labor Council, Great Lakes Building Trades, UE Local 506, the United Way of Erie County, Corry Higher Education Council, Girard School District and many more, committed to making this dream of equitable access to community college education for our county a reality. There is an opportunity to hope that this community college could happen, and that is a reason for optimism.

We make this vote with our collective responsibility to serve the best interests of Erie County front of mind. Erie County represents the most populated region of the state where there is no access to a community college, despite the fact that our state tax dollars support community colleges across Pennsylvania. Close to one-third of a billion dollars in taxpayer money is being spent on community colleges each year in Pennsylvania. Erie is getting zero return on that investment. It is time to collectively turn the corner away from debating whether or not we need a community college and start demanding that we get one.

There is a lot of work ahead of us and our constituents are counting on us to prioritize and plan for a future our region is still imagining. We must give our next generation the opportunity to succeed and our region the opportunity to grow — the community college will help Erie County educate the next generation of workers for 21st century jobs and attract new companies.

Beyond the data, the endorsements, the philanthropic investment and urgent need for workforce development — all leading us in the direction of establishing this college — we are voting today for the future of Erie — a future not yet imagined, but one that will be better because we have a community college.


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