Gov. Tom Wolf, making an appearance Thursday in Lancaster County, defended his proposal to keep the county’s celebrated career and technical college flat-funded this year, saying his administration has provided $20 million for other recent capital projects at the school.
He said those additional funds, as well as Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology’s option to apply for specific workforce development grants, is why the basic subsidy line-item did not include an increase despite the college’s output of graduates who go on to high-paying technical work that’s in demand.
“So I think we're in pretty good shape here,” Wolf said after being introduced by Thaddeus Stevens’ president, William Griscom, at an event at High Steel Industries in East Lampeter Township.
After he got a brief tour of the facility, Wolf said in an interview he’s also hoping the General Assembly approves more funding that he’d be able to give to Thaddeus Stevens for the kinds of capital projects he discussed.
The current $20 million in extra funds, spread out over four years, is going toward the 60,000-square-foot Greiner Center that opened last year.
“What they do is what I want to support,” Wolf said.
Griscom thanked the governor for the Greiner Center funds, saying it will “have a significant and long-term impact on this region’s economy.”
But, in an interview, he also said the college would still be requesting a $4 million increase to its $14.7 million basic subsidy in order to expand programs that would benefit an additional 1,450 students. He’s scheduled to testify in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting later this month.
Wolf’s visit came two days after he unveiled the first budget proposal of his second term. The heavy emphasis on workforce development issues and career and technical education was well-received in Lancaster County — including by the elected and business leaders on hand Tuesday at High.
“This is an emergency,” Wolf said of the often-discussed skills gap between new graduates and the jobs needed locally. “This is something that we've really got to do together.”
He spoke about his latest major initiative on the topic — a new public-private partnership that will bring together several of his cabinet members and statewide business leaders to form the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.
And while getting a live look a virtual welding training, he asked whether High and Thaddeus Stevens are starting to see any kind of shift from parents wanting their children to attend traditional four-year colleges.
High Steel Structures President John O’Quinn said there’s been progress but far more to go. Michael Shirk, CEO of the High Companies, stressed to Wolf the multitude of community efforts the companies operate to educate K-12 students, take high school interns and train others for work at their companies.
Griscom’s pitch to Wolf focused on questions parents and students should be asking before they pick a college.
“You shouldn’t be so concerned about the amenities, you know, how many cafes they have or climbing walls,” Griscom said. “But ask, ‘How many students started this program? How many graduated? How many got jobs in their field? What was their median student loan debt? What was their starting salary? How satisfied were the graduates with the program?”
Legislation requiring colleges to make those answers publicly available online has been supported by local lawmakers, and Griscom told Wolf it would go a long way, “probably more than anything else we’ve been doing.”