Nearly six months into the fiscal year, Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), Northampton Community College (NCC) and Pennsylvania’s 13 other community colleges have yet to receive operating funds authorized in the state’s FY 2023-24 budget. In fact, community colleges are the only public higher education institutions in Pennsylvania still awaiting state payments.
The state budget included a 2% operating fund increase for the community colleges, but legislation has not been passed by the General Assembly authorizing the funds to be released.
This has needlessly put LCCC, NCC and the state’s other community colleges in a precarious position, forcing detrimental measures to be taken to prevent employees and students from being impacted.
At Lehigh Carbon Community College, the college has had to remove monies that have been invested, resulting in an approximate loss of interest income of $250,000. With this loss of interest income, it is a real possibility that services to students would have to be cut.
At NCC, the situation has forced the college to tap into financial reserves to make up for the related operating budget shortfalls. That has resulted in a loss of interest income to the college of about $250,000, a number that grows larger the longer payment delays continue. Ultimately, that loss of income mitigates our ability to support students and fund college operations.
Interest expenses and/or unrealized investment income realized by these measures may very well exceed the increase allocated in the state budget as early as this spring. In other words, the delay in state payments is translating into a net funding cut.
Collectively, Pennsylvania’s community colleges are the largest provider of public postsecondary education and workforce training in the commonwealth. At more than 80 campus locations and sites across the state, the colleges educate more than 230,000 students across all 67 counties. LCCC serves nearly 11,000 students in three counties -– Lehigh, Schuylkill and Carbon; while NCC serves nearly 30,000 students primarily from Northampton and Monroe counties.
Students served by Pennsylvania’s community colleges come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Across the state, 42% of community college students are from minority or other underrepresented populations. The colleges serve more first-generation students and low-income students than any other sector of higher education.
Seventy-five percent of the community colleges’ programs align with high priority occupations in fields such as health care, manufacturing, public safety and cybersecurity. In fact, the colleges award three out of every four associate degrees in nursing in the state. The colleges also partner with more than 2,100 Pennsylvania employers to address workforce needs and provide contracted training to more than 87,000 workers annually.
Making this essential postsecondary education and workforce training possible for Pennsylvania is more than 17,600 hardworking individuals who are employed by Pennsylvania’s community colleges —including nearly 700 full- and part-time employees who work at LCCC, and more than 1,300 who work at NCC.
It is critical that the General Assembly pass legislation authorizing release of state funds to Lehigh Carbon Community College, Northampton Community College and the other state-funded community colleges without further delay.
Our students, employer partners and employees are counting on it.