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Community colleges change lives, build economies

Right now, everyone is trying to make difficult decisions about a future that looks anything but clear. The economic implications of the global coronavirus pandemic will be felt for years to come in every sector of society. As unemployment continues to rise, citizens may want to train for more stable careers, but are afraid they cannot afford it. 

As state legislatures face multi-billion-dollar budget deficits, they may consider funding cuts for community colleges. Although it may seem difficult today to justify the investment, it is more important than ever to promote the value of a community college education – a value that will continue to have significant, long-term and positive impacts on our local and state economies. 

I am a passionate advocate for education that transforms lives and destinies, and it is my personal and professional mission to convince people that community college should be the first choice when it comes to their education. When I engage with different stakeholders, I often share success stories of graduates, testimonials from current students and examples of innovative workforce development offerings. The story that does not often get told, though, is about the vast economic benefits that flow from the community college to the actual community. 

In fall 2019, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, commissioned an economic impact study to quantify just how widespread those benefits can be. The results of the HACC study – which was conducted by Emsi for HACC’s 2017-18 fiscal year – are profound.     

Taking into account the College’s operations, construction spending, student spending and alumni impact, the report concludes that HACC added $1 billion in income to our service region during the analysis year. The report noted that “one out of every 90 jobs in the HACC

Service Region is supported by the activities of HACC and its students.” 

HACC has an alumni network of more than 95,000 proud graduates. Today, thousands of those HACC alumni work and live in our 11-county service region. In return for their investment in a community college education, these alumni receive higher future earnings that will continue to increase throughout their working lives. For example, HACC graduates in 2018 who earned their associate degree will see annual earnings that are $8,600 higher than a person with a high school diploma or equivalent working in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18, HACC alumni generated $838.3 million in added income for the regional economy. As our alumni network continues to grow, their impact will, too. 

Health care is just one sector of our economy that would suffer immensely without the regular flow of highly skilled graduates. In our 11-county service region, the report found that “HACC’s spending and alumni in the Health Care & Social Assistance industry sector supported 3,353 jobs in FY 2017-18.” From an ever wider societal vantage point, numerous studies conclude that education correlates positively with health and lifestyle and that educated individuals tend to spend less in the long term on health expenses and services. 

The immediate satisfaction of earning a community college credential and either starting or advancing in a career cannot be discounted. We experience this shared sense of elation and achievement every time we celebrate a graduation. But the long-term impacts of community college extend far beyond the day of graduation. The bottom line – when we invest in community colleges, we all benefit from the economic return in our communities.  

Dr. John J. “Ski” Sygielski is the president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and can be emailed at ski@hacc.edu or contacted on Twitter at @HACCSki. View CPBJ’s interview with Dr. Ski here.

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