Video: Pa. ranks last in region for community college affordability

Most community colleges in counties with above-average poverty also have above-average tuition costs.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

When community colleges in Pennsylvania were formed, the goal was for the state to contribute one-third of the costs, the local sponsor to contribute another third and the rest to come from students’ tuition.

But that goal hasn’t materialized. According to the most recent records available, the average breakdown of community college funding in Pennsylvania looks like this:

  • 26% from the state.
  • 13% from localities.
  • 56% from students.

That’s far from the shared-third model that was imagined.

“We have drifted away from that model due to pressures on state and local governments. The only other sources of revenue we have is student tuition, and so tuition has gone up as a result of that,” said Stephanie Shanblatt, former chair of the Pennsylvania Commission of Community Colleges.

Consequently, Pennsylvania has a much higher average tuition rate compared to the national average. And its rate is also higher than each of its bordering states.

In Pennsylvania’s most recent budget, it did not increase funding for the operating budgets of community colleges. Advocates say the pressure on especially low-income students has grown unsustainable.

“We have students who are homeless. We have students who are food-insecure. And so those tuition raises make it impossible for some people to continue,” said John Braxton, president of the Community College of Philadelphia’s faculty union.

Our data analysis found that most community colleges in counties with above-average poverty also have above-average tuition costs. And community colleges in more affluent counties tend to have more affordable tuition.

For students in cities like Philadelphia, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

“We’re not asking for more,” said CCP student Tria Jones, 39, a widowed mother of four. “We’re just asking for what we deserve and what was promised.”

This video was produced with a grant from WHYY’s Keystone Crossroads. Thank you to PhillyCam for assistance with filming and production.