Pennsylvania Promise: New free tuition proposed for PA

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 6:24 PM

Free tuition.

The two words every college student dreams of hearing may become a reality for students enrolled in one of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE) universities in the near future.

On Jan. 23, the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center joined state legislators in Harrisburg for a press conference to reveal the “Pennsylvania Promise,” a new policy proposal that focuses on investing more in Pennsylvania’s higher education system, and potentially, providing free tuition for state system students.

“The Keystone Research Center and the PA Budget and Policy Center began researching similar plans in other states in mid-2017,” said PA Budget and Policy Center/Keystone Research Center Communications Director John Neurohr.

“The proposal was the final in a series of reports we (PA Budget and Policy Center and Keystone Research Center), did on higher education in Pennsylvania. Some of which were focused on the inadequacies of state funding for higher ed and the success of the state system of higher education in promoting economic mobility for Pennsylvanians.”

Association of Pennsylvania State College and Universities Faculties (APSCUF) President Dr. Kenneth Mash was one of the administrators who spoke at the press conference regarding the Pennsylvania Promise.

“This is a crisis situation for students and potential students, and Pennsylvania Promise offers a way to take action now. A college degree has become unaffordable for far too many. Study after study demonstrates the positive effects that a college degree has on people’s lives [and] too many students must make the difficult choice of taking on ever-increasing debt or not going to college at all,” said Mash.

He continued: “Making higher education affordable benefits not just the students who go to college, but it helps the economy of the entire commonwealth. A recent state system study showed that for each $1 the state allocates to the state system, $11 is returned to the state and local economies.”

According to the Pennsylvania Promise proposal, written by labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, Mark Price; economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center, Stephen Herzenberg; and Diana Polson, a policy analyst at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, “If Pennsylvania does not expand access to higher education to more of its citizens, the commonwealth’s economy will suffer and living standards will lag growth elsewhere.”

The new policy also states that the current “per capita funding for higher education in Pennsylvania ranks 47 out of 50 states,” with the increase in state spending suggested in the Pennsylvania Promise raising Pennsylvania’s rank to 36.

The “need” to invest in this policy is argued by the proposal’s authors with the following points: 

— Thirty-five years of state disinvestment has left Pennsylvania ranked worst in the nation when it comes to higher education, has left students’ high debt at graduation, and has left the state’s high station and fees, all contributing to this ranking, according to U.S. News and World Report.

— The stat ranks 40th for the share of adults ages 25-64 with an education beyond high school.

— In over half of Pennsylvania’s counties (35), the share of adults with more than a high-school degree is lower than in any of the 50 states.

— A large body of economic research shows that lagging education attainment translates to lower wages and incomes for individuals and slower economic growth for regions.

“As we point out in our previous reports, growing student debt coupled with — and driven by — rising costs of tuition/fees is making higher education increasingly unattainable for many Pennsylvania students. In an economy where some form of post-secondary education is more and more important, now is the time to change the way we think about higher education as a state,” said Neurohr.

However, if implemented within the state system, the Pennsylvania Promise would provide:

— Two years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate enrolled full-time at one of the state system’s 14 public community colleges.

— 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 and who is attending one of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities.

— Four years of grants ranging from $2,000 up to $11,000, depending on family income.

— Grants to adults without a college degree, with priority given to those seeking in-demand skills and industry-recognized credentials, as well as college credit.

Regarding the reality of the Pennsylvania Promise being implemented within the state system, Neurohr said: “That depends on what the state legislature does. The plan will soon become a bill, which would have to pass the state Senate and state House and be signed by the governor.”

Mash also shared that APSCUF is in complete support of the Pennsylvania Promise and making college affordable for all Pennsylvania students.

“APSCUF will do all it can to support [the] Pennsylvania Promise and make college affordable for all Pennsylvania students. Our faculty and coaches have devoted their lives to affordable, high-quality, public higher education, [but] right now, ‘Pennsylvania Promise’ is a plan,” said Mash.

“We’re working to gain the support of legislators who can propose legislation to turn ‘Pennsylvania Promise’ into law. However, it will never become law unless college students, high school students and their families demand that it happen. They must become active, contact their legislators and vote. We believe that if there’s enough demand from Pennsylvanians, our policy-makers will find a way to make the plan a promise fulfilled.”

Macala Leigey can be reached at

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