PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A state panel formulating a new framework for higher education in Pennsylvania will hear from more than a dozen stakeholders this week, including a community college student, the provost of a small Catholic university and the chairman of a veterans program.
The governor's Advisory Commission for Postsecondary Education is holding its fourth public meeting on Friday in Philadelphia.
Chairman Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, called it a "listening" session that will help inform policy recommendations aimed at allowing Pennsylvanians to focus on lifelong learning, not annual angst over tuition and state funding.
About 816,000 state residents were enrolled in some type of postsecondary institution as of fall 2010, according to the commission.
"We need to evolve the system in a way it's more affordable, more accessible and the outcome results in a more employable and competitive individual," Wonderling said.
Gov. Tom Corbett created the panel in February after proposing a budget that would cut aid to state universities by 20 percent to 30 percent next year. The institutions had their aid cut by 19 percent this year.
Since its first meeting in March, the 31-member commission has split into four working groups to address workforce needs, affordability and accessibility, administration and financial structure, and collaboration among institutions.
The panel also has seen presentations offering a global perspective on college-related issues and perceptions on the value and affordability of obtaining a degree.
Underfunding, competition for students and disruptive technology are among the top concerns in higher education in 10 countries, including the U.S., according to a Deloitte study shared with the panel. A Pew Research Center survey found that only 22 percent of the general public thinks college is affordable for most people today.
At a commission meeting in April, manufacturing executive Carlos Cardoso spoke of a significant gap between Americans' perception of that sector and the reality. Cardoso, the CEO of Latrobe-based Kennametal, also serves as co-chair of the governor's manufacturing advisory council.
Company spokeswoman Christina Reitano said last week that contrary to popular belief, many well-paying manufacturing jobs are available. The problem is there aren't enough skilled workers to fill them, she said.
"What we're finding is we need to get the message out sooner to more younger students so they're aware there is a career path for them," said Reitano.
On Friday, the commission will hear from a wide range of people interested in higher education issues, including a community college parent, administrators from several private universities, two college students and the principal of the Milton Hershey School, a private boarding school for underprivileged K-12 students.
Also scheduled to speak is Joseph Marbach, the provost of La Salle University, a private Catholic school in Philadelphia. He said he wants the commission to know the importance of financial aid programs that permit students to pick colleges that fit their needs.
"Those are things we need to preserve so we can allow students to go to the type of school where they'll best succeed," Marbach said.
The panel held its first listening session in Harrisburg in mid-May. Two more will be held on June 14 in Pittsburgh (morning) and West Middlesex (afternoon), followed by one in Wilkes-Barre on June 28.
University of Pennsylvania professor Laura Perna, an expert on equity in higher education, said the state needs to be careful that its policies and funding decisions don't further widen the gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers.
"It used to be that we believed that higher education would level the playing field," Perna said. "The extent to which that's happening is a real question."
The commission's final report is due to the governor by Nov. 15.