By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)
Lancaster County has one of the premier technical schools in Pennsylvania in Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
In 2018, Stevens — a two-year technical and skills training school — had 2,800 applicants but capacity for only 700 first-year students. The college has a 98 percent overall job placement rate.
If we step outside Pennsylvania, Stevens is in fact one of the most effective technical schools in the nation. Forbes Magazine ranks it as the ninth best two-year college in America. The Aspen Institute places it in the top 10 percent of two-year colleges in the United States.
In 2018, Stevens worked with 1,400 employers to place graduates, but it couldn't keep up with demand as there were 3,000 jobs available for the 400 graduates the college produced that year. Ninety-seven percent of its graduates land good-paying jobs right here in Pennsylvania. The median starting salary for the Stevens Class of 2017 was nearly $42,500 and the average student loan debt was $9,000 — far below the national average.
Moreover, Stevens’ original mission is to provide economically disadvantaged individuals in Pennsylvania with a technical education that will enable them to break the cycle of poverty and become productive citizens, while supporting the critical technical workforce needs of the commonwealth.
Despite all this success, Stevens does have capital needs to meet in order to continue its excellent service to our commonwealth. These include, but are not limited to, continuation of its capital funding of $5 million annually and an appropriation increase of $4 million to expand its programs and enrollment to meet demand.
The school has recently added a 60,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing center and is leasing a 50,000 square-foot facility in Greenfield Corporate Center for its very successful metal fabrication, welding and masonry programs.
There is no question that Pennsylvania must refocus its educational system by training for the jobs that are in high demand in today’s labor environment. It would seem that the best use of taxpayer money would be to fully fund schools that are already accomplishing this priority.
Stevens is a proven school with proven results. In order to increase the number of students it serves, Thaddeus Stevens officials made a request in this year’s state budget for an additional $4 million in funding to accommodate an additional 1,450 students.
While I applaud Gov. Tom Wolf for adding funding to his proposed budget for career and technical training, my question is simply this: Why not fully fund Stevens, an educational system that is already an excellent training ground for skill and technology trades?
Currently included in the state’s budget is more than $1 billion in aid to state and state-related colleges. In the scheme of higher education funding, a $4 million increase for Thaddeus Stevens College represents a small fraction — just 0.4 percent of that $1 billion total.
If we are going to get serious about prioritizing our technical and skills training, it is time to provide Stevens with the funding necessary to accomplish this. Increasing the number of students able to attend Thaddeus Stevens is a great start.