Hughes’ "Pennsylvania Promise" would offer free, reduced college tuition to state residents

Hughes’ "Pennsylvania Promise" would offer free, reduced college tuition to state residents

Author: The PLS Reporter/Thursday, May 10, 2018/Categories: News and Views

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) plans to introduce a bill that would provide two to four years of tuition for students at community colleges and state-related universities in Pennsylvania.

The “Pennsylvania Promise,” which is still in the planning stages, would offer two years’ worth of tuition allocations to full-time students attending one of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges. Students may receive four years of free tuition at a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) university if their family’s income is $110,000 or less per year. Students whose families make less than $48,000 would be also be eligible for assistance toward room and board fees.

“The idea is to create free and affordable [education] for everyone, as much as possible,” Sen. Hughes told The PLS Reporter.

Additional four-year grants may range from $2,000 to 11,000, and will be offered at Pennsylvania’s state-related universities - Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and Pitt.

The legislation would also provide grant allocations to adult students who are seeking additional credentials, including certification and college credit.

“Students are carrying huge amounts of debt and are going without food for a day or longer,” Sen. Hughes said. “It’s immoral for a country that prides itself on democratic values. It really is unacceptable.”

He added that Pennsylvania Promise will help address the state’s “brain drain,” or the departure of people with some form of higher education, and relieve college students’ food insecurities.

“We want to make sure we relieve as many students as possible,” he said.

Although finances have not been set in stone, Sen. Hughes hopes investors and Pennsylvania residents choose to support the proposal. The implementation of a Marcellus Shale tax is also on the table for funding purposes, he said.

“We are looking at advancing a program that the public will support,” he said. “Education is always important, it should be a priority. We always benefit.”

Sen. Hughes’s proposal has been introduced during open forums at schools such as West Chester and Cheyney universities.

“We need to get people to wrap their brains around the idea [of Pennsylvania Promise],” he said. “The future is on the line here.”

The proposal comes on the heels of years of turmoil for Pennsylvania education. The commonwealth ranks of 47th in the nation in regard to higher education funding. Pennsylvania is also ranked 40th in the nation in relation to the number of its residents with a college education, according to Sen. Hughes.

By 2020, 63 percent of jobs will require a degree of some kind, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Last year, five PASSHE universities, including Mansfield and Cheyney, submitted letters of intent of retrenchment that increased the possibility of faculty layoffs and budget cuts at each school. Since then, all of the letters have been retracted, except for Cheyney’s.

In the same year, a strategic review was conducted of the state system in light of former Chancellor Frank Brogan’s renewed focus on student success. As tuition rates have risen throughout the system, enrollment has steadily declined since 2010, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

At each state-related university, funding has also shrunk considerably; causing tuition to rise in an attempt to avoid budget cuts.

Sen. Hughes said he hopes to have the proposal, Senate Bill 1111, introduced to the Senate within a month.

Pennsylvania Promise previously received support from the Association of State College & University Faculty (APSCUF) and the Keystone Research Center.

“There is growing support, but we want to get the word out,” he said. “Pennsylvania Promise is promising - it’s a promising idea.”