A new report released last week, titled ‘The Pennsylvania Promise: Making College Affordable and Securing Pennsylvania’s Economic Future’, proposed a plan that could make college education more accessible and affordable to students.
The report was written by economists and analysts from the Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
The plan broke down figures associated with allowing for free tuition for students and included establishing an Office of Income Mobility in the PA Department of Education, with an annual appropriation of $9.9 million. This office would manage the grants targeted for students.
According to the plan, the proposal would lower the financial barrier for college enrollment covering two to four years of tuition and fees for recent high schools graduates, reducing the total cost of tuition between 17 percent and 41 percent for students with an income level below $110,000.
“Tuition assistance proposals by no stretch of the imagination make college free, but they do drive the total cost of college back down in the direction of the lower cost of college faced by previous generations of students that attended public colleges in Pennsylvania,” the report states.
The report lays out a plan to fund the “Pennsylvania Promise” (which would amount to $1.16 billion) in a few ways, including an increase in the corporate net income tax rate, a natural gas severance rate, and an across the board personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.32 percent.
At a press conference where the report was unveiled, many speakers, including Senator Vincent Hughes, were positive about the proposed plan.
“We certainly appreciate the tremendous amount of research that’s been done to address an issue that I think should be obvious for all of us that needs attention, that needs to be addressed,” Hughes said at the press conference. “If we intend to make Pennsylvania a 21st-century state, we must invest in all aspects of the education of our children. We must move from our young people being in debt to go to college to making sure that it’s accessible to them and that they have opportunities to go onto college.”
State Reps. James Roebueck and Jordan Harris also spoke at the event, along with Daniel Le, a student at Shippensburg University and Kenneth Mash, APSCUF President.
“We must make a difference and we must provide opportunities,” Mash said. “It is simply unacceptable for Pennsylvania to be 48th in the country as far as per-pupil funding for higher education. This is important not just for the student, it is important for everyone in the commonwealth.”
The report also states that the “Pennsylvania Promise” will create an estimated rise of enrollment by 17 percent, or 2,244 students. It also estimates that 55,018 students in the State System will be eligible to participate in the program.
Alyssa Dobson, director of financial aid at SRU, said there is currently about a $4000 difference in costs between an in-state student and an out of state student reduced (which is given to students based on GPA), with an additional $4000 between out of state reduced and regular out of state.
“Any opportunity for financial aid for greater access to higher education we would support and it excites us,” Dobson said. “We definitely understand and identify the problem in Pennsylvania, which is highlighted in the report, which is that we’re not properly funded by our state.”
Dobson said she a few concerns with the proposal, mainly regarding how the state could afford it.
“Without changing some of the things in our budget currently I don’t see how this is plausible because it’s trickle down,” Dobson said. “The statewide budget impacts SRU’s budget, which impacts tuition for students.”
Dobson said the plan could also impact the PHEAA grant and the report made it a little unclear with how the ‘Pennsylvania Promise’ would work with PHEAA. Dobson said the report could also benefit private schools and allow them to free up resources to spend more money on out of state students.
Dobson said the one percent tax increase proposed in the plan may also not be supported by voters, and that the income requirements in the plan aren’t clear on whether it includes income students are earning and whether or not they’re from a separated household.
“I couldn’t see [in the report] where they clearly defined that,” Dobson said. “That could be a huge difference to people.”
The full ‘Pennsylvania Promise. report can be found here.