Pencils Down
How plummeting enrollment and low success rates at the Community College of Allegheny County harm students and the Pittsburgh region

When the next Allegheny County executive takes the helm in January, they’ll assume influence over the county’s community college – and potentially shape its role in the community. 

They’ll support the Community College of Allegheny County [CCAC] financially, a responsibility that has been the subject of political dispute. They’ll appoint board members to govern the college, which serves thousands of students but has seen enrollment fall in recent years. And they could deepen the relationship with CCAC, especially after a race that saw one former candidate support free community college. 

CCAC declined to make President Quintin Bullock available for an interview about the potential impacts of the upcoming leadership change and declined to respond to a list of emailed questions. In a late-March interview, Northwest Region President Evon Walters said the college was not backing a particular candidate at that time.

 

Three key takeaways from this story:

  1. Neither of the remaining candidates have announced proposals for free community college for county residents, a component of one former candidate’s platform.
  2. Some members of Allegheny County Council claim that the county has historically underfunded CCAC. The county denies this. 
  3. The county executive will appoint members to CCAC’s Board of Trustees.

“We stay in our lane in terms of being able to be that champion for the college, for the community, regardless of who is in that position,” he said.

The two candidates for county executive, Democrat Sara Innamorato and Republican Joe Rockey, fielded questions from PublicSource about their visions for and responsibilities to the college. Here’s a breakdown of what they shared:

Do the candidates support free community college?

Before losing in the Democratic primary, Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said he planned to provide two years of free tuition at CCAC to high school graduates in the county. He estimated that his program would cost up to $60 million annually and said it would be funded through contributions from philanthropic groups, local employers and the Allegheny Regional Asset District, WESA reported

Tuition-free programs for colleges and universities have grown nationwide, according to The Washington Post. So far, Innamorato and Rockey have not announced similar proposals. 

A spokesperson for Rockey did not respond to a question on whether he would pursue a program. Innamorato told PublicSource that Lamb’s proposal interested her, but she said she wanted to confirm whether such a program would be financially feasible for the county. 

“I haven’t been able to explore wholly what the opportunities for funding that would be,” she said.

The contestants for Allegheny County executive, Democratic candidate Sara Innamorato (above) and Republican candidate Joe Rockey. (Photos by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource).

Innamorato also pointed to the poor student success outcomes facing community colleges nationwide and questioned whether tuition costs are a primary barrier to completion at CCAC. County residents paid $4,602 in tuition at CCAC during the 2021-2022 academic year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. About 40% of full-time students who had enrolled that fall dropped out by the next.

A spokesperson for Rockey did not respond to a question on how he would prioritize funding for CCAC. 

Council member Bethany Hallam has said that the county is supposed to cover a third of CCAC’s operating costs but had fallen short prior to this year. County spokesperson Amie Downs, however, disagreed. She provided PublicSource with excerpts of reports CCAC submitted to the state from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2022, which show that tuition costs made up less than a third of CCAC’s operating costs during that period. 

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