Empower Erie News & Updates

Our view: Don’t let rural senator dictate Erie’s fortunes

Posted on March 13th, 2018 at 12:36 PM

This article was originally written by GoErie Editorial Board and published on GoErie.com on March 13, 2018

A community college has long been recommended in Erie County to fill a gap in the region’s education continuum and serve as a resource to local employers, especially manufacturers in the rapidly changing, high-tech global economy.

The latest push for sponsorship of a bricks-and-mortar community college won approval from Erie County in June in part because of the groundswell of support from labor, business and charitable organizations.

Empower Erie, the nonprofit that advocated for the college, made a strong case for both the need and future viability of the school. The county, especially the city of Erie, faces among the highest poverty and unemployment rates statewide. Manufacturers have sounded an alarm about the graying of their workforces.

The Erie Community Foundation and others stepped forward with more than $3.7 million to help fund startup costs. And the county, in weighing sponsorship, looked to gaming revenues from Presque Isle Downs & Casino to cushion the financial burden.

The application is now pending before the state Board of Education. The board should decide this application on its merits and in the specific context of Erie County, and not heed opposition from Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati, from rural Jefferson County, the highest-ranking member of the Senate.


Scarnati has written a letter opposing creation of an Erie County community college. Scarnati says the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, approved in May 2017 by the Legislature, could meet Erie County’s needs with no additional money from the county and that a community college in Erie would cost the state additional money to duplicate services. Scarnati says NPRC students have access to two-year degrees, technical training and certificate programming.

The NPRC, which covers a nine-county, mostly rural and mountainous region the geographical size of New Jersey, is now in its second session. It offers only two two-year degrees, interdisciplinary studies and business administration, and plans to add two more, criminal justice and early childhood education, in the fall. The summer course offering consists of 10 classes, mostly liberal arts, including philosophy and music, and only two related to business. There are three technical classes planned in summer offered via distance learning by the Williamsport-based Pennsylvania College of Technology Workforce Development & Continuing Education. The college is still searching for sites in Erie where students can have “hands-on” learning.

There’s no question that isolated communities in Pennsylvania’s northern tier should have access to these resources. But we agree with Empower Erie Chairman Ron DiNicola, Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper and state Sen. Dan Laughlin, of Millcreek Township, R-49th Dist., that the NPRC model, as it has evolved so far, might not scale to Erie’s deep and varied needs.

Erie stakeholders have spoken. Hopefully, the Board of Education will hear them.

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