HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Governor Tom Wolf wants to bet on 44,000 students to help them earn a college degree while graduating with less debt and building successful lives in Pennsylvania. Wednesday, the governor held a press conference to discuss how his historic Nellie Bly Scholarship Program would provide need-based financial assistance for students at 14 universities in the state’s system.

“Our country has a student loan debt crisis and it’s a burden that lasts for years and holds young people back from starting a family, buying a home and saving for retirement,” said Gov. Wolf. “I am proposing the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program to help college students build lives in their communities rather than struggling to pay student loan bills every month.”

The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program provides a scholarship to full-time undergraduate students at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities who have a household income of under $104,800. For the most economically disadvantaged students, the scholarship covers the tuition and fees gap not covered by a student’s Pell and PA State Grants. In exchange, the students agree to stay in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years for which they receive the benefit or the scholarship becomes a low-interest loan.

The program also creates an Emergency Grant Fund at PASSHE to meet any emergency expenses the scholarship recipients might have, including books, paying final account balances, or other nominal costs that often prohibit students from registering for classes or obtaining transcripts.

he governor was joined for the press conference by Shippensburg University President Laurie A. Carter, Edinboro University senior Sam Bohen and Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega.

The scholarship is named in honor of Nellie Bly, an Armstrong County native born in 1864. Bly attended the Indiana Normal School, now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but left due to the cost. Bly became a pioneering journalist who helped to force reforms to the mental health care system in the early 20th century. Inspired by Jules Verne’s novel, Bly also completed a trip around the world in just 72 days.

The scholarships benefiting 44,000 students would be funded by repurposing $199 million in slot machine revenue that is directed to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund. Approximately 80 percent of the revenue goes to purses for horse owners, many of whom are from other states or countries. The fund has provided more than $3 billion over 16 years to subsidize the single private industry, which should be ready to support itself in a free-market capitalist economy. This $3 billion in addition to the traditional support the industry receives from the commonwealth including payments from the Pari-mutuel Wagering Tax and Clean and Green, a preferential tax assessment program, among others.  The fund would still support health and pension benefits for horseman organizations as the original slots law intended.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the commonwealth with 93,000 students. The university system includes Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester.