Advocating for Pennsylvania's Community Colleges


Winner of a Silver Keystone Award from the Central PA Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America

The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges (PACCC), a nonprofit membership association, is the primary advocate for Pennsylvania’s 15 community colleges. PACCC provides leadership on issues affecting its member community colleges and represents their collective vision and needs to policymakers.

Over several years, the colleges received the second-to-lowest cumulative growth in state appropriations for public education institutions as compared to career and technical education institutions, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institutions and state-related universities. Pennsylvania’s community colleges sought to raise awareness among policymakers of their impact and the need for more state investment.

Research and Insights

PACCC engaged PRworks to lead strategic communications in support of its advocacy efforts targeted to Pennsylvania policymakers. At the outset of the engagement, PRworks conducted the following research:

  • Discovery session with PACCC leadership
  • Review of PACCC’s strategic plan
  • Review of previous testimony to policymaking committees

The research identified key insights that showcase the impact of the colleges:

  • PA’s 15 community colleges educate 230,000 students from all 67 counties, making them the largest provider of public postsecondary education and workforce training in the state
  • PA’s community colleges offer the lowest tuition for postsecondary education in the state
  • PA’s community colleges enroll more first-generation and low-income students than any other sector of postsecondary education
  • 42% of the colleges’ students are from minority communities (more Black and Hispanic/Latino students than any other sector of postsecondary education)
  • Community colleges provide workforce training to over 87,000 individuals across the state
  • Over 70% of community college programs are aligned to address workforce shortages in high priority occupations (HPOs) such as healthcare, manufacturing and public safety
  • Community colleges partner with over 2,100 employers, connecting students with employers to address regional and state workforce needs
  • Community colleges award 4,500 degrees and certificates in healthcare, including 75% of all associate degrees in nursing
  • Community colleges provide college credit to over 19,000 high school students through dual enrollment programs, reducing the cost of a college degree and the time necessary to complete a degree program

Planning and Approach

Informed by the research, PRworks collaborated with PACCC to plan a strategic communications initiative with the centerpiece being a special event at the Pennsylvania State Capitol held on Community College Day, April 24, 2023.

The goal was to raise awareness among state policymakers, and earn statewide media attention, on the impact of the community colleges and the need for more state funding.

Tactics included:

  • A social media campaign in the lead-up to Community College Day
  • A fact sheet with a state budget request insert
  • Banner stands for display during the media event
  • Event remarks for PACCC’s board chair
  • Remarks for the chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Community College Caucus to make on event day to the Pennsylvania Senate
  • Media advisory, pitching and news release
  • Grassroots email campaign

Coverage Spanning the State

The Community College Day event was attended by nearly 100 community college students and featured hands-on exhibits demonstrating college training programs. The students were joined by House Speaker Joanna McClinton, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, House Community College Caucus Chair Rep. Mary Isaacson, Senate Community College Caucus Chair Sen. Devlin Robinson and House Community College Caucus Chair Rep. Zach Mako. They were also represented by Emma Hope, a student at Lehigh Carbon Community College and the 2023 All-Pennsylvania Academic Team New Century Transfer Scholar.

The event earned media coverage reaching an audience of over 298,600 viewers, readers and listeners in multiple Pennsylvania media markets including Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York; Erie; Lehigh Valley; and Western Pennsylvania. The publicity value of the media coverage totaled over $50,300.

Over a two-month period (between the Governor’s budget address and the Community College Day event), the social media campaign earned over 30,740 organic social media impressions and over 1,650 organic social media engagements.

The grassroots email campaign following the event exceeded PACCC’s historical metrics, achieving a record 28% open rate and 8% click-thru rate. The campaign resulted in over 1,350 “Take Action” engagements on PACCC’s website, generating over 7,000 emails by grassroots supporters asking their elected officials to support community colleges in the state budget.

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