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Ƶ's recent graduates are filling workforce needs in high-priority careers

By Diane VanDyke
Statewide, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges celebrated 7,530 students who graduated from the state’s 15 community colleges. Nearly 18% of those graduates attended Ƶ. From left, Varsovia Fernandez, Chair of Ƶ Board of Trustees; Dr. Chae Sweet, Ƶ Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost; Dr. Victoria Bastecki-Perez, Ƶ President; and 2024 graduate. Photo by David DeBalko

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges celebrated 7,530 students who graduated from the state’s 15 community colleges. Nearly 18% of those graduates attended Ƶ. From left, Varsovia Fernandez, Chair of Ƶ Board of Trustees; Dr. Chae Sweet, Ƶ Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost; Dr. Victoria Bastecki-Perez, Ƶ President; and 2024 graduate. Photo by David DeBalko

Community college graduates continue to fill workforce needs in their communities, and Ƶ (Ƶ) is a notable example of that work. In May, Ƶ graduated 1,345 students with the vast majority receiving degrees in high-priority occupation areas including the health sciences, early childhood education, and information technology/computer science.

“We are extremely proud of all our graduates who have joined the network of more than 90,000 Montco alumni,” said Dr. Vicki Bastecki-Perez, Ƶ President. “Many of our alumni continue to live, work, learn and invest in Montgomery County and Pennsylvania, contributing to equitable economic prosperity while transforming lives and future generations.”

Ƶ’s Class of 2024 collectively earned 1,476 degrees and credentials. The graduates include 460 who are first-generation, 476 BIPOC, 126 nursing, 70 municipal police and 30 veteran/active military personnel. The age range spanned from 17 to 68 years. The programs with the largest number of graduates are Liberal Studies, Business Administration and Nursing.

Based on current census and population data, it is estimated Pennsylvania’s projected skilled worker shortage could reach 820,000 in the coming years. To meet the state’s workforce needs and support continued economic growth, more workers will be required with appropriate credentials and training tailored to regional employer needs – an area in which community colleges excel. Statewide, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC) celebrated 7,530 students who graduated from one of the state’s 15 community colleges. Nearly 18% of those graduates attended Ƶ.

“Ƶ remains on the forefront of educating students to fulfill employers’ workforce needs and ensure our graduates will earn livable income,” said Dr. Bastecki-Perez. “We work in partnership with employers, Montgomery County’s Commerce Department and MontcoWorks – which administers workforce programming for both employers and career seekers in the County – and government representatives at all levels. This collaboration ensures that our programs are intentionally designed to meet both current and future workforce needs.”

Ƶ plays a key role as one of the leading drivers of economic growth for Montgomery County and the region. For every $1 invested, students gain $4.70 in lifetime earnings, taxpayers gain $2.30 in added tax revenue and public sector savings, and society gains $9.30 in added income and social savings, according an economic impact study by Lightcast for Ƶ for fiscal year 2021-22. Furthermore, Ƶ benefits the region by adding $817.1 million in total income and supporting 9,139 total jobs (2021-22).

Looking at the healthcare worker shortage, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania conducted a survey of 70 of its hospitals in November of 2023 and found that one-third of registered nurse positions were vacant. The need is in sharp contrast to levels before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is particularly true in southeast Pennsylvania. Statewide, community colleges added more than 1,000 nurses to the workforce. Over 10 percent, or 126, of the community college graduates receiving nursing degrees in May were graduates of Ƶ.

Ƶ’s nursing graduates’ first-time pass rate of the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) was 97% in March 2024. This rate exceeds the state average of 91.7% and the national rate of 87.62% for 2023.

In addition to nursing, several health sciences programs led the list of degrees granted this May at community colleges in the state with graduates earning credentials to serve as medical assistants, radiographers, dental hygienists, medical coders and billers, sonographers, among many others. At Ƶ that included degrees or certificates in dental hygiene, exercise science and wellness, healthcare administration, massage therapy, medical assisting, medical laboratory technician, medical office assistant, nursing, phlebotomy, physical therapist assistant, public health, radiography and surgical technology.

Pennsylvania is also facing a major shortage of educators across the Commonwealth. A decade ago, roughly 20,000 teacher certifications were issued each year, while in 2021 only about 6,000 were issued. This includes Pre-K and early childcare programs. A March 2022 Start Strong PA survey found that there are nearly 32,500 children on waiting lists with 91% of respondents citing staffing shortages as the challenge to serve more children.

Community colleges continue to have a positive impact on the educational workforce. Ƶ graduates included 33 students who earned credentials in the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited Early Childhood Education Program. Ƶ also had a total of 22 graduates in the Education in the Middle Years and Secondary Education programs.

Pennsylvania’s 15 community colleges have over 245,000 students enrolled on their 80 campuses, providing real savings to students and families as they pursue additional credentials. On average, students save $30,000 on their education by starting at, or selecting a community college for their degree or certificate. Those same 15 colleges partner with 2,170 employers for workforce training ensuring that students have the most up-to-date knowledge, and providing pathways to careers for them as well.

This academic year, Ƶ started a new 18-month “earn-while-you-learn” apprenticeship program, the MontcoWorks Apprenticeship Program in Information Technology. This comprehensive IT generalist apprentice program provides students with practical hands-on experience in a regional company while receiving advanced training at Ƶ.

Community college graduates also have many opportunities for transfer scholarships. One of Ƶ’s mechanical engineering graduates, My Ly, is the recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Ly is one of 60 students out of nearly 1,700 applicants selected for this national scholarship. The award will provide as much as $55,000 a year for up to three years for her to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Ly is a first-generation college graduate who participated in the Honors Program at Ƶ. She was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, served as a senator and vice-president of the Student Government Association, was president of the Rotaract Club and Honors Club. She also volunteered with the Sustainability Lab, and participated in the INNOVA hydrogen-cell car, among other activities while on campus. She will be attending Bucknell University in the fall.

Community colleges are the state’s largest provider of public postsecondary education and workforce training and offer the lowest public postsecondary tuition in Pennsylvania. Additionally, 75 percent (75%) of the community colleges’ programs align with High Priority Occupations in fields such as healthcare, manufacturing and public safety. They award over 4,000 healthcare credentials annually on average, including 75 percent of all associate degrees in nursing in the state. It is estimated that about 55 percent of undergraduate students who are enrolled in a Pennsylvania college are enrolled at one of the 15 community colleges in the state.