At the beginning of March, Governor Tom Wolf joined Pennsylvania school officials and education stakeholders to highlight his continued commitment towards equitable investments in the state’s education systems. In a state experiencing a labor shortage, with a critical need for college educated workers, Governor Wolf called for sweeping investments to make higher education more affordable. The average student debt for Pennsylvanians now stands at $39,000, with a collective $71.5 billion worth of loans state-wide.
The Governor’s proposed budget would allocate $550 million to Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools specifically, preventing tuition increases for schools in the PASSHE system. For students, 90% of whom are from Pennsylvania, the investment would mean a tuition freeze for the fourth consecutive year, a decision that has been overwhelmingly beneficial, especially to students from underserved communities. However, if the state legislature does not pass the bill, the Board of Governors will likely vote on a tuition increase.
“If you were lucky enough to attend a public college or university in the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s, you might well have been able to graduate without accumulating any debt at all. However, as lawmakers in many states have hacked away at funding for higher education, the tuition costs borne by American students and their families have increased by more than 200% since the late 1980s. More specifically, the cost of attending a PASSHE institution over the last decade has escalated by 50%,” stated Cynthia Shapira, chairman of the PASSHE board, pointing out that this debt “puts a State System degree out of reach for many low- and middle-income families.”
The Governor last month also proposed a $200 million program funding various programs and scholarships through the Nellie Bly Tuition Program, which assists students in the healthcare, education and public service sectors.
The scholarship is open to students who pledge to work in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years they received scholarship funds.
A grant program would also be established to invest $1 million in the Hunger-Free Campus Initiative to combat food insecurity, while additionally investing $500,000 each to both the Adult Education and Family Literacy program, as well as the the It’s On Us PA initiative which seeks to protect students from sexual violence.
Governor Wolf also supported an increase in the minimum salary for K-12 teachers to $45,000, a policy that was previously struck down.