As Pa.’s cost of college rises, legislature proposes free tuition, room and board

(PennLive) Legislators in both the state House and Senate introduced legislation to make tuition free at each of the state-owned and state-related universities and community colleges.

The bills – House Bill 2444 and Senate Bill 1111 conjointly called the “PA Promise” – would cover tuition and fees for recent high school graduates whose families earn $110,000 or less at to attend any of the state’s 14 state-run universities and state-related institutions. It also “promises” to cover the cost of tuition and fees for the 14 public community colleges and cover room and board at any community college, state-owned or state-related institution if their family earns $48,000 or less.

The program would cost the state about $800 million, said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia).

The bills do not outline a way to fund the program. But, Hughes added he liked the idea of using taxes from Marcellus Shale drilling during a news conference on Wednesday.

“We’re here to ask a question,” Hughes said. “Why not free college? What is wrong with that idea? Why not free and affordable college?”

Pennsylvania was ranked 50th in the nation for higher education due by U.S. News & World Report in 2018. It was ranked on the graduation rates, college debt and tuition costs. Students in Pennsylvania accrue more debt, taking out $33,000 in loans, over the national average of about $29,000 according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

“We need to make college more affordable, and I mean actually affordable,” Reynold said. “I don’t mean make it $15,000 or $20,000 a year, instead of $50,000 or $60,000. I’m saying make it affordable and make it accessible to allow every person from every single background the same opportunity to receive a higher education.”

The Senate bill is sponsored by Hughes, and the House bill by Rep. James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), among others. The bills would also outline funds for adults who want to pursue an “in-demand” skill and increase access to apprenticeship programs.

This is one of several initiatives coming out of the state government, like a project underway by Treasurer Joe Torsella called Keystone Scholars. The scholarship grant program provides a $100 scholarship to each child born or adopted in the state to use toward college- or career-related expenses

The program is currently financed through $2.25 million It is operating in six counties, including Delaware, Elk, Indiana, Luzerne, Mifflin and Westermoreland counties, according to a release by the treasurer’s office.
Every baby born within these six counties will be eligible for a $100 scholarship grant from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 of this year.