We have covered the student loan debt crisis extensively. Some of the key numbers to exemplify the gravity of the crisis includes $1.48 trillion in total U.S. loan debt with 44.2 million Americans shouldering this debt. Many students are pursuing college despite having to take on a ton of debt. This is especially true in the state of Pennsylvania, which is currently trying to change that.
According to the article “Tuition-free community colleges, public universities proposed in Pa.” published in April, state Sen. Vince Hughes, (D-Philadelphia,) was planning to introduce a bill that would “cover two years of tuition and fees for recent high school graduates attending one of the state’s 14 community colleges [and] cover four years of tuition and fees at a state-owned university for students with a family income of $110,000 or less per year.”
Furthermore, and family who has an income of “$48,000 or less would be eligible for assistance with costs associated with room and board.” This would also enable adult learners who are seeking additional credentials grants.
If passed into law, this new bill would be handled by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. It would cover any leftover dollar amount after a student has been awarded all federal, state, and grants.
The reason why this idea is being pushed is that more jobs are requiring post-high school education according to Hughes. He offered a forewarning stating that the commonwealth would remain in jeopardy of falling behind and being unprepared for the realities of the 21st century until all Pennsylvanians are able to get the education that they need.
This idea is not unique, for 16 other states already offer tuition-free programs. Lawmakers are hoping to make Pennsylvania the 17th. Hughes goes on to say that “this is a priority, as I said both for individual families and it’s a priority for the state of Pennsylvania. This is the way to invest in Pennsylvania to reap the rewards for years, if not decades, in fact, for generations to come.”
Rep. James Roebuck, the minority chair of the House Education Committee, said in a news conference in January that the need of higher education for individuals in the commonwealth was of “fierce urgency.” Much like Hughes, he agrees that the future of the state, particularly the economy and workforce, is dependent on having highly qualified individuals. Moreover, he stated that “college is not a privilege, rather an expectation in order to get a good job.”
It is estimated that this new program would cost the state $1 billion. The bill does not include a revenue stream in place to cover this cost, but the bill’s sponsors have suggested implementing a gas severance tax according to Public News Service. If passed, the bill would move Pennsylvania from being 47th in the nation to 36th for investment in higher education per capita.