Empower Erie News & Updates

It's official: Board approves Erie County's community college

Posted on July 8th, 2020 at 7:33 AM

It's official: Board approves Erie County's community college



The state Board of Education voted 10 to 5 in favor of approving a community college for Erie County.


An effort that required years took a few hours more on Wednesday as the state Board of Education dealt with a series of other issues.

But ultimately, the board voted 10-5 to ratify Erie County’s application for a community college.

The formal vote follows a 9-6 vote in June that provided preliminary approval of Erie County’s bid.

The motion to approve the community college was made by Jim Barker, a board member and former superintendent of the Erie School District.

In remarks following the vote, Barker called it a “giant and lasting leap forward for Erie and the Commonwealth.”

Ron DiNicola, an Erie lawyer and co-founder of Empower Erie, a nonprofit group formed to advocate for a community college, did not downplay the significance of the vote.

“I think the good news is that the Erie we wake up to tomorrow is going to be different than the Erie we woke up to today,” he said.

DiNicola described himself as hopeful prior to the meeting, despite the fact that one of the college’s supporters in the 9-6 vote in June was expected to be unable to attend.

Wednesday’s vote came after three years of local lobbying for a community college and at the end of a 3-hour online meeting.

Among those making the case for Erie was Barker.

“This has the broadest base of support of anything I’ve witnessed in Erie County,” he said. “Now is the time, Erie County is the place.”

Among those voting no was state Rep. Curt Sonney, of Harborcreek Township, R-4th Dist.

Sonney, who serves as chairman of the state House Education Committee, called into question the board’s apparent conclusion that the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, which serves Erie and eight other counties, is not itself a community college.

“I will vote no, but for the benefit of Erie County,” Sonney said. “I also believe NPRC is a community college and that Erie County would be much better partnering with NPRC.”


Both the NPRC and state Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-25th Dist., Jefferson County, who played a key role in the creation of the NPRC, have a right to appeal the decision.

DiNicola, who said he hopes the first students can be enrolled by the fall of 2021, expressed optimism that the board’s decision will stand.

“We have demonstrated our capacity by taking on those interests in Harrisburg and defeating them,” DiNicola said. “I expect that will continue and that ultimately we can find a place of accommodation where we can work with the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College.”

Any challenges to the board’s decision must be filed within 30 days.

The next order of business will be the appointment of the college’s board of trustees. Erie County Council and Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper have 60 days to complete the process.

While Sonney talked about whether the NPRC was a community college that already served Erie County, most board members on Wednesday focused on whether Erie had met the basic tests required for the creation of a community college.

As the vote suggested, most agreed Erie had cleared those hurdles. 


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