Northampton CC wants to expand, but will voters allow it to?

October 19, 2009 by Emsi Burning Glass

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This past weekend the Pocono Record newspaper documented an interesting community college story playing out in Northeast Pennsylvania. Northampton Community College is proposing a new campus in Monroe County, PA, to extend its presence in the region and meet the growing need for more classroom and training space. It would be funded through a $31 million bond that would raise the property tax level for area homeowners.

Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether or not to accept the bond referendum.

NCC commissioned a study to estimate the benefits of the new project, and the results showed 500 new jobs would be added and $13 million in extra economic activity would occur. While EMSI did not conduct the study, EMSI President Kjell Christophersen was quoted heavily in the piece to relate the benefits of community colleges to a region’s workforce and economy.

While the wage gap grows larger as the levels of education increase — when people progress to a bachelor’s or graduate degree — this first step, from high school diploma to a two-year degree, often proves the most difficult to make.

“The steepest portion of the earnings curve is between high school and the associate’s degree,” Christophersen said.

And it is at this level of education, the associate’s degree, that jobs tend to be more readily available, said James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College in Michigan, which hosted President Barack Obama when he announced billions in new money for community colleges.

“Here’s the issue,” Jacobs said. “The growing jobs in many communities are what we call middle-level jobs — more than high school but less than a four-year degree.”

He said such jobs — as truck drivers, carpenters, nurses and information technologists, for example — pay fairly well, are relatively stable, and in steady demand.

“The areas that don’t have community colleges have to import those types of people,” Jacobs said.

Christophersen pointed out that a community college also brings long-lasting benefits because their students tend to stay where they live, rather than move away.

“What the community colleges do is increase the quantity and quality of the region’s work force,” he said. “That tiny bit of education keeps on giving. It doesn’t dissipate over just one year. When you add that impact, the college may account for 2 to 4 percent of the economy, and you’d be hard pressed to find another institution that would do that.”

You can read the full article here.