Pa. ranked 6th worst for Higher Ed funding; Democrats push proposals to help students in debt

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A new report shows Pennsylvania is among the worst states when it comes to cutting funding for higher education.

Tuition has gone up for many students, leaving them with a lot of debt.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says Pennsylvania has the 6th worst drop in higher ed funding in the country. As for per-student funding, the 9th worst.

“I have over $50,000 in debt just from Shippensburg which is kind of crazy because it doesn’t even cost that much to go there without financial aid,” said Victoria Jones.

Jones graduated in 2016 from Shippensburg University, working several jobs while in school.

“I decided not to do on-campus housing because it was going to be so much more expensive so I lived off-campus and I had to pay for that monthly and my loans and things wouldn’t go towards that,” Jones said.

Tuition has increased 20.3% between 2008 and 2019.

“There’s talk about declines in the number of students attending the PASSHE schools. If you want to know why that’s happened this is your main answer,” said Marc Stier, director of the PA Budget and Policy Center.

Governor Wolf is proposing the Nellie Bly scholarship, a needs-based tuition program to help an estimated 44,000 students cover all the costs of college.

To be eligible, a student at one of the 14 PASSHE schools needs to agree to live in Pennsyvlania for the same number of years that they receive the stipend. If they decide to leave Pennsyvlania before that point then the tuition converts automatically to a loan.

“I’m proposing that we redirect $199 million in taxpayer money that’s already been expended from the Pennsylvania Racehorse Development Fund,” Wolf said.

That proposal has the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition saying it would result in the end of horse racing.

Wolf says 80 percent of the revenue goes to purses for horse owners, many in other states or countries.

“Clearing the way for workforce engagement opportunities before students graduate is important. Easing the debt burden opens up those opportunities,” said Laurie A. Carter, president of Shippensburg University.

A longer-term proposal from Democrats is the Pa. Promise, which would cover tuition and fees for two or four years depending on income at one of the 14 PASSHE schools or provide grants for those attending state-related universities.

“We have to reframe the conversation and really being to talk about what is the return on investment for actually doing what’s necessary and investing in our young people?” said Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia.)

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