Educators love it because they would no longer depend on legislative approval for annual state funding.
- Families buffeted by inflation — and reluctant to take on debt — will appreciate its promise of college tuition as low as $1,000 per semester.
- But critics wonder how much it will actually cost.
- “It” is the blueprint for higher education unveiled at the end of last week by Gov. Josh Shapiro and based on input from higher-ed leaders and other stakeholders.
What’s the plan: An ambitious bid to reinvent the administration and funding of higher education in Pennsylvania, which often ranks among states with the steepest tuition bills.
- Key elements include creating a single administrator for the state’s community colleges and the four-year schools currently overseen by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, a group that includes Millersville and Shippensburg universities.
- Students would then be able to transfer more easily between schools, whether they are pursuing four-year degrees or more specific credentials.
- Another highlight is the promise of a $1,000 per semester price tag for state schools, at least for families making the state’s median income of about $73,000 per year.
- Households above the median will remain eligible for other assistance, according to a Shapiro spokesperson.
- “This proposal builds on our existing system of financial aid to provide one more opportunity to help students in the most financial need — it does not mean that students with a higher family income will be left without any financial aid,” the spokesperson said.
What about other schools: Students attending independent colleges and state-related schools like Temple and Pitt would see a $1,000 boost in grants available from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
- The annual grants are currently capped at $5,750.
- Also on tap is a new funding structure for state-supported colleges. They would be funded under a performance-based formula weighing factors such as graduation rates, enrollment totals and efforts to support students earning degrees and credentials in high-demand fields, such as advanced manufacturing and biotechnology.
- The formula would be administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, cutting out the legislature’s role.
Why is this happening: The governor argued that Pennsylvania has underfunded higher education for three decades,
- And, he claimed, competition between colleges for limited funding has actually reduced access to higher ed, resulting in declining enrollment.
- The new plan is designed to lower costs, expand access and establish stable funding, while helping to ensure colleges meet workforce needs.
- Educators cheered the proposal.
- “Governor Shapiro’s vision of a higher education sector sets Pennsylvanians, including current and future HACC students, up for success by making it easier for them to transfer earned credits, build skills that employers are seeking, and save time and money in the process,” John Sygielski, president and CEO of Harrisburg-based community college HACC said in a statement.
What’s next: Shapiro is expected to divulge more details as part of his annual budget address, slated for Feb. 6.
- Lawmakers are likely to listen closely to how the governor expects to pay for the new plan.
- Indeed, costs were on the mind of one early critic, York County Republican state Rep. Seth Grove.
- In a statement, Grove described the plan as including “massive and unsustainable spending increases.”
- “The House Republican position on education, from pre-K to college, is simple: fund students, not institutions,” Grove said in his statement. “This plan fails to fund students and continues to fund institutions, many of which are in debt of their own making.”
- Costs also were in focus for Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman.
- “The types of changes being proposed are no small undertaking and notably absent from the announcement is the amount of funding required to effectuate the plan,” Pittman said in a statement. “Two key considerations with any substantive changes must be the additional costs to taxpayers, as well as the impact on local communities where our state’s higher education institutions are located.”