Publicly funded colleges are essential to realizing the American dream for individual Pennsylvanians and to growing prosperity for the state as a whole. Rising tuition, however, results in fewer low-income and middle-income students attending college—and more of those who attend have crushing amounts of debt when they leave. The Pennsylvania Promise “free tuition” plan would make public colleges in our state affordable again.
Public funding for higher education is critical to both the success of individuals and to the prosperity of our Commonwealth as a whole.
Our research shows that publicly-funded colleges in Pennsylvania are essential to both realizing the American dream for individuals and creating prosperity for communities. Sixty-five percent of Pennsylvania’s college student social mobility “success stories” attended Pennsylvania’s public colleges or state-related universities. And communities with a higher percentage of college graduates grow faster and have higher wages than those with a lower percentage.
The cost of attending public colleges has been on the rise. Tuition and fees at Pennsylvania’s public colleges has gone up 66% since 2000-01 after adjusting for inflation. These rising costs have resulted in a decline in attendance of low- and middle-income students and a crushing amount of debt for those who do attend. In fact, LendEDU ranked Pennsylvania number one in the nation for highest student debt.
Tuition is going up at public colleges because our state has low and falling state support for public higher education. Since 2000, state funding for higher education is down by 25% in inflation-adjusted dollars. Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 states for per capita investment in higher education.
There is another way! The Pennsylvania Promise plan has been introduced as legislation that would significantly decrease costs of attending one of PA’s 14 community colleges, 14 state system colleges or 4 state-related universities. The plan would: cover two years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate enrolled full-time at one of Pennsylvania’s community colleges (regardless of income); cover four years of tuition and fees for recent high school grads with a family income less than $110,000 per year accepted at a state system college; provide four years of grants ranging in amount depending on family income for students accepted into a state-related university; and provide grants to adults without a college degree who have a family income less than $110,000 per year with priority given to those seeking in-demand skills and industry-recognized credentials. Passing this legislation will make college affordable once again and reinvigorate Pennsylvania’s public schools as engines of upward mobility.
Publicly funded colleges in Pennsylvania are essential to realizing the American Dream. Public colleges and state-related universities account for 65% of social mobility success stories of students who enter college from families with incomes in the bottom 60% but each have an income in the top 40% of their own by their early 30s.
We also need to make college education accessible to create thriving communities with high wages. Not everyone needs to go to college. But when more adults have a college education, economic growth is greater and wages for everyone are higher.
Pennsylvania is 40th of 50 states in the percentage of adults with more than a high school education.
There is great regional variation in the percent of the adult population with more than a high school education. In 35 Pennsylvania counties—more than half of the 67 in the state—the share of adults with more than a high school education is lower than the average for all 50 states. (For example, in West Virginia as a whole, 48.1% of adults have more than a high school education.) The counties in Pennsylvania with a higher percentage of adults with more than a high school education are also those that tend to have increasing population, faster economic growth, and higher wages.
Our dismal standing with regard to education attainment is largely the result of the state’s low level of investment in higher education Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 states for per capita investment in higher education. This results in higher tuition and fees for students as well as more hardship for families.
Not only is state support for public universities and colleges in Pennsylvania low, but it has been declining sharply in the last 30 years. Since 1982-83, It has fallen by almost half relative to the Gross State Product.
The result of reduced state funding for education is that tuition increased 66% in public and state-related universities in Pennsylvania between 2000-01 and 2015-16.
High state college tuition is one factor leading to high levels of student loan debt. Between 2000-01 and 2015-16, the median student loan debt increased an average of 27% in public and state-related universities. LendEDU ranked Pennsylvania number one in the nation in terms of highest student debt (https://lendedu.com/blog/student-loan-debt-statistics-by-school-by-state-2017.)
Pennsylvania Promise would significantly decrease the cost of college and would ensure our public universities can continue to be strong engines of upward mobility.
(NOTE: at a future date we plan to address the substance of the op-ed referred to below by Anthony...
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