HACC leaders address declining student enrollment, financial issues

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The president of Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) held a virtual press conference Thursday to address declining enrollment and financial struggles, as the school looks ahead to its “One College” vision.

HACC President John “Ski” Sygielski said it’s a new day in higher education, a time to retool and reorganize, as they deal with changing demographics, market competition, and other factors that are forcing the college to examine how it operates.

“We feel that we don’t have the luxury of time on our side to remain competitive, to remain efficient,” Ski said.

He explained that funding from the state and federal government, as well as local school districts, has decreased in the last nine years. Not surprisingly so has enrollment, a whopping 25 percent.

A major goal now is focusing on adult students, and a college-wide restructuring with industry needs topping the list.

“We are intimately engaged with small, medium and large businesses, understanding what their training and education needs are, and going in and providing that,” Ski said, adding that less high-school age students applying to college is yet another challenge they face.

That pool of young talent is a plus Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse wants to retain.

“You see it at HACC, you see it at Harrisburg University, you see an influx of young talented people,” Papenfuse said. “They make the city alive with energy.”

To save money, HACC is considering outside vendors for its bookstore, public safety, security and grounds keeping, among other things; custodial and payroll employees will not be outsourced.

Ski also put to rest rumors that HACC may leave Midtown Harrisburg, where it owns a building at 4th and Riley and leases one at 3rd and Riley.

“We are slowly moving programs out of that [leased] building and onto the Harrisburg campus,” Ski said.

That lease ends in 2022 and will save the college nearly $2 million a year in payments. Ski said the school will remain, though, in the other building they own.

“They are committed to staying there, and they’re an important part of our city’s growth and economic development,” Papenfuse said.

HACC will also change and eliminate some positions, a tough decision they admit but they are fighting a $3 million operating loss for the 2019 fiscal year, and they’re projecting the same for 2020.

HACC also said they will remain in Lebanon and are committed to that community, despite downsizing their presence there. The college is in discussions with two potential buyers to purchase part of their building, since Ski said the college only uses about 50% of the campus for classes and services.

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