Pennsylvania Promise Pledges To Make Higher Education More Affordable

Jan 23, 2018

A policy proposal from the left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center aims to cover tuition and fees for eligible recent high school graduates who attend community college or a state university.

At a press conference Tuesday, three democratic state legislators said they support the Pennsylvania Promise, which would cost $1.16 billion a year. However, the legislators did not promise legislation to make it a reality.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director for the Keystone Research Center, who co-wrote the proposal, suggested four ways to pay for the investment: an increase to the personal income tax, a severance tax, a flat tax on financial wealth or a fair share tax that would lower personal income taxes for some while raising it on income derived from wealth.

“There are ways to raise the revenue," he said. "Given the importance of the purpose, that level of investment is really a no-brainer.”

According to the report, the plan would provide:

  • Tuition and fees for two years at one of the 14 public community colleges.
  • Tuition and fees for four years at one of the 14 universities in the state system of higher education for students with a family income less than $110,000.
  • Up to $50 million for adults without a college degree with a family income less than $110,000 to earn up to four years of postsecondary credit.

The grants would cover what the center calls the “last dollar” of tuition and fees, meaning what remains after all other federal, state and institutional grants are awarded to students.

Pittsburgh already has a similar scholarship program called the Pittsburgh Promise. Public school students with at least a 2.5 GPA and a 90 percent attendance record are eligible for up to $7,500 per year toward tuition.

In September, 19 area colleges and universities partnered with the Pittsburgh Promise to offer an additional $2,000 a year for room and board costs.

The scholarship program reports to have funded more than 7,300 students enrolled in 124 public and private colleges across Pennsylvania since 2008. 

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's report stressed the need for, “reinvestment in post-secondary education and training in Pennsylvania.”

The commonwealth is ranked 40th for adults ages 25-64 with more than a high school education and 47th per capita for higher education funding.

Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Jordan Harris said Tuesday that without an investment in access to higher education, the state would “continue to slide further and further behind other states.”

“Humanity says that if we’re going to move forward as a commonwealth, we need to retool our adults so that they are ready to do the jobs of tomorrow and the days after,” Harris said.

Fellow Democrat, State Sen. Vincent Hughes, agreed legislators must work aggressively to make the promise a reality. 

This story was updated at 3:17 p.m. on Jan. 24 to correct that Pittsburgh Promise-eligible students can receive up to $7,500 a year, rather than per semester.