Erie has a mall, a minor league baseball team and multiple television stations, but unlike many other cities in Pennsylvania, Erie doesn’t have a community college.
Throughout the state, there are 14 community colleges, with a total of 12 branch campuses and 87 instructional sites in 44 different counties. That leaves 23 out.
For Erie, the closest ones are about two hours away in Butler and Beaver counties. What Erie does have though is Porreco College, which has come to be known as “the community’s college,” according to Janet Bowker, director of operations at Porreco.
“I think Porreco College is filling the community college void by offering associate degree programs geared toward careers available in the immediate area and doing so at a very affordable cost,” Bowker said.
Gov. Tom Wolf spoke about his “Priorities for Pennsylvania” as part of the Jefferson Educational Society’s Global Summit on Sunday, Nov. 1, addressing a variety of topics, but Erie’s lack of a community college was among those.
“I think what we need is an education system that is accessible and relevant,”Wolf said.
“I think we get too preoccupied with labels of a specific, real community college.”
He held a position on the board of a private college in York, Pennsylvania for some time, where he sought to provide education that met such criteria.
“It’s affordable, accessible and really plays to the practical challenges and needs of people looking for good jobs in the York community,” he said.
Porreco College has an open admissions policy where applicants only need a high school diploma or a GED to be accepted. It also offers a few remedial courses.
Through partnerships and collaboration with local employers, Porreco College programs are “aligned”with the jobs available in the area, according to Jeff Hileman, director of communications at Edinboro.
“Providing workforce-ready education at an affordable cost is the community college model,” he said, “and that’s what Porreco College provides.”
Bowker also believes Erie’s lack of a community college isn’t problematic for the area.
“I believe that instead of trying to establish a separate community college,” she said, “we need to develop a way to utilize the colleges and the county technical school to provide training that might be missing, to enable people to fill positions in the region that are going unfilled.”
Wolf says that it is important that educational resources are being distributed efficiently, but emphasizes that providing relevant education at an affordable cost is more important than a label.
“We simply can’t have people getting degrees for education that’s irrelevant,” he said.
“We can’t have people getting degrees and coming out of colleges with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.”
He considers Erie’s lack of a community college to be a challenge, but also an opportunity.
“What we really need are educated citizens. We need our kids, ourselves to get a good education.”
Tracy Geibel is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at email@example.com