Rethinking Higher Ed: Putting Students First

By Pennsylvania Senator Tracy Pennycuick (24th District)

The Center for Rural PA estimates the state’s population will grow by just 1.6 percent through 2050, compared to 20 percent population growth nationally and our fastest-growing age demographic is adults aged 85 and above.

Additionally, college costs and student debt remain clear problems in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth ranks among the worst states in the nation in terms of average student debt and among the five costliest states in terms of higher education overall.

If we fail to reverse these trends, we will see severe budgetary pressures as a dwindling labor force struggles to generate enough revenue to support an aging population.

Pennsylvania needs a fresh approach to post-secondary education to ensure we can be more competitive and overcome the economic and demographic challenges that threaten our state’s future.

Rather than pursuing expensive, big-government solutions with unclear outcomes like Governor Shapiro’s PASSHE-Community College merger, we need a plan that focuses on young people and employers – putting students first.

That’s why my colleagues and I in the state Senate put together a proposal to rethink higher ed called Grow PA. The plan creates new grant and scholarship programs under PHEAA to encourage students to enter high-priority fields and to bring more out-of-state students to PA and incentivize them to stay here and work here after they graduate.

We need more teachers, large animal veterinarians, nurses, law enforcement, trade workers and workers in other key Pennsylvania industries. Grow PA puts an emphasis on these fields and provides an affordable pathway for young people to learn, grow and thrive in the workforce without leaving the state.

Grow PA will also expand some of the state’s most successful higher education and post-secondary education programs, including Ready to Succeed Scholarships and the Targeted Industry Cluster Program.

The grants would be available for students attending any Pennsylvania school – including career and technical schools like Thaddeus Stevens College and Pennsylvania College of Technology – in one of the priority fields of study.

In addition, a new Merit Scholarship Program would help attract high-performing out-of-state students to Pennsylvania programs with the promise that they will stay in our Commonwealth and work here for a period of time after graduation in high-priority occupations.

Under both programs, if a student does not fulfill this commitment, the awards would be converted to loans, providing a strong incentive for these students to stay in Pennsylvania, buy homes here, start families here, and build their lives here.

I’m pleased to be a leader in this effort and sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 1153, to expand the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program nationwide for children to attend PASSHE schools. Under current law, children in the foster care system and children who were adopted in Pennsylvania qualify for financial aid and tuition waivers. The legislation expands the program nationwide to allow adopted and foster children from other states to benefit from these programs in Pennsylvania.

Giving kids in foster care and those who were adopted from throughout this great country a chance to come to Pennsylvania and take advantage of our PASSHE schools not only helps these kids, but helps our Commonwealth attract new students to our colleges and universities and supports our local economies.

Other reforms in the plan will include:

Encouraging universal FAFSA completion so students and families are fully aware of what financial aid packages are available to them and can make informed post-secondary education decisions.

Increasing dual enrollment opportunities.

Further promoting career and technical opportunities.

Grow PA represents a responsible alternative to Governor Shapiro’s higher education plans, which have drawn criticism for a lack of attention to detail. The alternative plan presents a way to achieve the main post-secondary education goals of both parties at a lower cost.

It’s time to address college affordability and open quality career pathways for our young people. It’s time to pass Grow PA.

Pennsylvania Senator Tracy Pennycuick represents the 24th District, which includes parts of Berks and Montgomery counties.

CONTACT: Lidia Di Fiore (215) 541-2388

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