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Bill Introduced to Make College Free in PA

Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of the 50 states in per capita funding for higher education. (nikolayhg/Pixabay)
Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of the 50 states in per capita funding for higher education. (nikolayhg/Pixabay)
June 8, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania is near the bottom in per capita funding for higher education, but a bill now in the General Assembly could change that. If passed, the bill, called "PA Promise", would eliminate college tuition and fees for recent high school graduates from families with incomes of $110,000 dollars a year or less.

The bill is based largely on a report released in January by The Keystone Research Center. According to Mark Price, labor economist there and co-author of the report, in the global economy access to higher education is crucial.

"It is absolutely about making Pennsylvania a place where an employer wants to locate and can locate because they can see that they have a pool of highly trained, highly skilled workers from which to draw," says Price.

Right now, in more than half of Pennsylvania counties the share of adults with more than a high school diploma is lower than in any of the other forty-nine states.

The bill would also pay room and board for students from families with incomes below $48,000 a year, a provision that Price calls "ground breaking."

"Not a lot of promise programs across the country have taken that really key step in generating college affordability because one of the areas where college costs are rising the fastest is housing," says Price.

The increase in state spending would raise Pennsylvania from 47th in the nation to 36th for per capita investment in higher education.

After 35 years of state disinvestment in higher education, Price maintains high tuition and soaring student debt make affordable college tuition an issue that cuts across party lines.

"If you had a kid who's reaching college age, this critical choice about where to send them and how much it costs really weighs a lot on a lot of families,” say Price.

The bill does not include a revenue stream to pay the estimated $1 billion annual cost, but the bill's sponsors suggest that could be covered by instituting a gas severance tax.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA