Erie County, Pennsylvania, has been looking into the issue of creating a community college in the county for several years, and on May 28 they held a public meeting to discuss whether or not they could afford the cost of a college. Right now, the closest community college branch campus to Erie is in Mercer County, which is two counties away. However, as we pointed out in our recent study on community college affordability, students must often pay higher tuition to attend community college (even on branch campuses) if they do not live in certain districts covered by the college. Even if Erie establishes a branch campus in the county, students may still be subject to higher costs, which is unfortunate when community college is already out of reach for so many Pennsylvanians.
The situation in Erie is not unique to Pennsylvania. Throughout the state, five Pennsylvania regions (encompassing two-thirds of adults age 25-45) have no access to community college. The lack of access comes at a time when a mid-level education – that is, more than a high school degree, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree – has become crucial to attain self-sufficient jobs in the state, and at a time when more than half of adult Pennsylvanians have only a high school education.
Can Erie afford a community college? Or is the real question: can Pennsylvania afford not to make its community college system more affordable and accessible?