CRANBERRY TWP — The presidents of three Western Pennsylvania community colleges Friday discussed the changing role of their institutions in society and how they can help businesses and workers.
The program, hosted by Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber, included Nick Neupauer, president of Butler County Community College; Quintin Bullock, president of Community College of Allegheny County; and Chris Reber, president of Community College of Beaver County.
All three men touted the successes of their institutions and of community colleges across the country, which have become more and more important in an age when students are graduating college with an average of $30,000 in debt and many do not immediately find high-paying jobs.
“The pendulum has swung in favor of the community college. It’s for those reasons: high-tech jobs, affordability,” Neupauer said.
At BC3, 70 percent of the students leave debt-free and some are able to get bachelor’s degrees from numerous other colleges without leaving BC3’s campus.
Administrators have been seeing many students enroll who are the first in their family to attend college.
“The nation’s landscape is changing and our students are becoming more and more diverse. At the same time our students are becoming economically savvy, meaning understanding the value that a community college can provide them: access to education as well as preparation for the work force,” Bullock said.
Reber shared that CCBC is working to expand its high school academy programs.
In these programs, students in grades 10 through 12 spend half of their time in high school and half of their time getting training and taking classes toward an associate degree.
The college already has an aviation program that started in 2015 and is planning to start similar programs in health care, manufacturing, criminal justice and performing arts in coming years.
Each college considers the needs of the workforce and local economy when planning programming and curriculum. They have high-priority occupation lists from the state that show the needs locally, regionally and statewide. They also work with advisory boards to adjust to the needs of the workforce.
After seeing a trend toward heating, ventilation and air conditioning professionals wanting to start their own businesses, BC3 changed its program to teach more business skills to help people start a business, Neupauer said.
CCBC is located near the site of a proposed ethane cracker plant and the college is looking at adding more programs in petrochemicals and process technology to prepare students for jobs.
In Allegheny County where health care is one of the biggest pieces of the economy, there is an emphasis on training people to become medical technicians and paramedics, Bullock said.
BC3, with multiple satellite campuses, is continuing to work to bring educational opportunities to areas that are underserved, Neupauer said.
“Why should we be contained within imaginary county lines?” he said.
BC3 has centers in Cranberry Township and in Mercer, Lawrence, Armstrong and Jefferson counties.