Amy Peiffer is juggling classes at Penn State Harrisburg. The 31-year-old went to Pitt out of high school, but left after two years with no degree and lots of debt.
"You get caught in the trap of 'I can't go to school because I have to work and I have to work to pay my student loans,' and I got caught in that cycle for a long time, Peiffer said.
Amy's not alone. The average college student in Pennsylvania leaves with nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. Governor Tom Corbett has noticed. He has twisted arms and slashed state dollars going to higher education. Schools have reluctantly promised to slow tuition increases.
Between 2000 and 2010, tuition at both Penn State and Pitt kept growing and growing; doubling in that decade and making them among the most expensive state schools in the country.
Charles Mitchell of the Commonwealth Foundation has studied higher education. He says there's been little correlation between tax dollars schools take and the tuition they charge.
"Higher education budgeting is very, very simple: you spend as much money as you think you can get and then you demand more," Mitchell said. "They've gotten all this extra money from taxpayers and they turned around and raised tuition anyway."
At state-owned universities like Millersville and Shippensburg, more students need six years to graduate than four, driving up costs and debt. And they often don't teach to the jobs.
"We're overproducing teachers," Mitchell said. "We're under producing engineers."
A governor's commission wants to tie tax dollars to performance. Do schools graduate kids in four years? Are they employed five years after getting out?
School presidents are on board.
"They know now they need to go earn those additional dollars if there's ever going to be additional dollars for public education in the commonwealth," said Rob Wonderling, a former state senator who chairs Corbett's commission on higher education.
"We are gonna be in tough times for a long time," Mitchell said. "Higher education's gonna have no choice but to get with the program and to innovate and do more with less."
The idea is for students to get more and pay less. It may be coming, just not soon enough for nursing student Kelly Gallo.
"It is a concern," Gallo said. "It is the most amount I've ever owed anybody. When I get out, it's gonna be a big chunk."