For the better part of a decade, a group of well-meaning and passionate community leaders has pursued a new community college in the Valley, centrally located in Sunbury.

They deserve a lot of credit for getting this far. This has been a grassroots effort from the jump and continues to be so. But they need help, namely in the form of an accredited university or college to partner with until the Susquehanna Valley Community Education Project can earn its own accreditation over the next few years.

The group thought they had that partner in Luzerne County Community College. That school, however, opened its own branch in Watsontown earlier this year, setting the local project back.

During a summit last week, SVCEP Vice President John Shipman said the group has another potential partner lined up. Which school that is, Shipman did not say.

Once that partnership is secured, SVCEP officials need local sponsorship. Commissioners from each county — Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Montour — will be asked to contribute a combined $1.2 million to start it up. The state requires community colleges to have sponsorship from either county commissioners or school districts.

“One-third of the funding must come from local government, one-third from the state and one-third from tuition,” said Shipman. “It’s equal to about a half-mill of taxes from each county.”

According to data from Community College Review, the average tuition for state community college is $10,533 per year for in-state students. The lowest is Northampton County Area Community College at about $6,500. For a student to attend a university in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education — Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Lock Haven, etc. — total cost for tuition, expenses and room and board is $22,000.

Community colleges offer local and affordable options. They remain an option for students who don’t want to leave school burdened by debt or may just not be ready for larger universities after graduation.

There are three higher education options in the Valley now: Lackawanna College’s Sunbury branch and Luzerne County Community College’s branches in Shamokin and Watsontown.

With those options already in place, there is a legitimate question if the Valley needs another outlet.

Perhaps the time it has taken to get this far has answered that question? Perhaps not.

We won’t discourage these leaders from pursuing the dream. It would be wonderful to see a college thrive in downtown Sunbury, creating a level of foot traffic the city business district desperately needs while offering students in the region an affordable educational option.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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