July 2, 2008

Community College Plan Gets Thumbs Up: Survey Shows Support for Community College Idea

By Jaime North, The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.

Jul. 2--MONTANDON -- A strong show of support from parents has fueled the movement for a local community college despite a lack of participation from Valley school districts willing to open up their classrooms for student response.

The Susquehanna Valley Community Education Project, which is trying to establish a community college for the four-county area, revealed the results of a survey Tuesday night during a steering committee meeting at the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit.

A majority of parents surveyed were in favor of a community college, as well as nearly all of the high school students, saying they planned to pursue post-secondary education. A little more than half of them said they were in favor of a local community college.

The downfall, according to survey officials, was that only two of the 16 school districts asked to participate chose to do so.

"A major problem occurred because only (Milton and Shikellamy) participated," said Paul Dion, a Susquehanna University business professor who led the study of interest among high school students. "The other districts either didn't get approval from their school boards in time or simply weren't interested."

Dion said the survey request was made in January. "They had four to five months to decide," he said.

Danville's vacancy drew the ire of Montour County commissioners Jack Gerst and Jerry Ward, who were in attendance.

"To have my home school district be one of the districts not participating in something directed to help our kids is embarrassing," Gerst said. "This is something that could affect a large slice of the young people in our area looking for great opportunities after high school. For them to choose not to participate, they're doing a disservice to the very group we're after."

Ward also was disappointed and vowed, along with Gerst, to get the Danville district on board for the next round of student surveys.

"This might decide whether a child continues their education or not," Ward said. "For someone who can't afford a four-year university, a two-year college can allow them to take the first step into the real world and stay here, rather than find opportunities outside the area."

Lenaire Ahlum, president of the Susquehanna Valley Community Eduction Project, said there still is time for the other school districts to participate as the nonprofit group moves toward launching a feasibility study, which is needed for the group to obtain approval from the state Department of Education to establish a community college.

"We can certainly include new data when we start the feasibility study," Ahlum said. "It will definitely help us make sure we're designing the best program to meet the needs of our community. From what we see from this survey, there is strong parental support and a clear need for more education opportunities for health care and manufacturing (workforces)."

For information on the community college initiative, including opportunities to participate, visit www.svcep.org.

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