How’s A Free, In-State College Education Sound?

By Andrea Sears, Public News Service
For The Post Publications

How's A Free, In-State College Education Sound?HARRISBURG PA – Parents whose children have already graduated from the Perkiomen Valley School District know obtaining a college, university, or any other post-high school education often can be as pricey as buying a second home. What if it could be free, or nearly free? That’s the dream of proponents who on Tuesday (Jan. 23, 2018) offered a different kind of college funding plan.

Two Harrisburg-based groups – the Keystone Research Center, and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center – introduced what they labeled as “The Pennsylvania Promise” during a presentation in the Capitol Rotunda.

The authors acknowledged their proposal relies on leveraging the Commonwealth’s extensive network of community colleges and the state system of higher education, and on continued federal education funding. They also admitted the roughly $1 billion added yearly cost would require new or higher taxes on Marcellus shale oil extraction, corporations, those deemed to be wealthy, and possibly other income.

But the plan would allow the state to invest more in higher education, they added. Currently, Pennsylvania ranks 47th of 50 states in the amount of state money per capita it invests in higher education.

The plan would:

  • Cover two years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate enrolled full-time at one of the Commonwealth’s 14 public community colleges, including Montgomery County Community College;
  • Cover four years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate with a family income less than or equal to $110,000 per year, accepted into one of the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education and state-related universities (University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln);
  • Provide four years of grants ranging from $2,000 to $11,000, depending on family income, for students accepted into a state-related university; and
  • Provide free tuition to adults without a college degree, with priority given to those seeking in-demand skills; industry-recognized credentials, such as apprenticeships; and college credit.

Mark Price, a research center labor economist, said the idea would require students to complete a financial aid form, with which they would obtain federal Pell grants or other assistance through existing aid for higher education.

“The proposal we’re putting forward would cover the remaining items,” Price said. “So it would effectively eliminate tuition at community colleges in Pennsylvania, and eliminate tuition for students in the state system of higher education.” It would not apply to out-of-state schooling.

The menu of options for raising the necessary revenue involve taxes and income streams that, so far, legislative leaders have rejected or could not muster enough votes to approve. The presentation suggested the state’s economic health depends on making solid investments in higher education, because it says having an educated workforce is key to keeping a community competitive.

“Those are communities that will own the future, and those are the communities that are going to attract the best employers, those are the communities that are going to enjoy the highest degree of income growth over time,” according to Price.

Fewer than half the adults in 35 Pennsylvania counties have more than a high school diploma, he said.

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