By Kaylee Lindenmuth
A senior special education major joined state lawmakers, officials and hundreds of students from across the commonwealth to voice support for college affordability in Pennsylvania at the capitol on March 27.
Vanessa Nonez was among a group of at least 200 students from PASSHE universities gathered on the steps of the capitol rotunda in Harrisburg for a rally supporting the Pennsylvania Promise plan.
According to papromise.org, the plan calls for the Commonwealth to cover two years of tuition and fees for any high school graduate at a community college or four years at a PASSHE school for a high school graduate from a family with an income less than $110,000.
Nonez spoke of her and her family’s experiences. She commented saying she is struggling as her mother, a Haitian immigrant, struggled to get by without a degree and noted how such a plan would help provide upward mobility for, not only her family, but others like hers across the state, and more.
“When I think about PA Promise and this idea of college for all, what do I see? I see a single parent taking evening classes to support their newborn child. I see a first generation of students who are the first of their family to graduate from a higher institution,” said Nonez. “I see the adult learners with disabilities being able to attend college and gain independence. I see a formerly incarcerated parent taking classes so that they can prove to their child that their past cannot keep them from a better future.”
“And I see my mother, who, after 40 years of being beaten by a system that has kept her from advancing in status and income, being able to walk across the stage and do what no other woman in her family has ever done,” added Nonez.
Nonez added she believes the plan is a pathway towards “a human right to education.”
Representative Jordan Harris, Philadelphia, spoke in favor of the plan as well, citing the cost of college and the need to support Commonwealth students.
“It is high time that Pennsylvania does the right thing by our future by making an investment in all of our young people who do the work in school who want to go to college and get a quality education. They should not have to worry about paying for it,” said Harris. “There is no way to move this Commonwealth forward unless we talk about how we’re going to take care of all of our young people and all of our adults who are going back to school to retool themselves to re-enter the workforce.”
“There is no greater good that we can do, as a Commonwealth, than to invest in the future of people through education,” added Harris. “It is our moral responsibility as a Commonwealth to ensure that when a young person puts in the work, that we help them meet each and every one of their dream by making college affordable.”
An info board posted at the rally displayed bleak statistics regarding higher education in Pennsylvania, noting the state is first in the nation in student loan debt, and that the average Pennsylvanian college graduate had $36,000 in student loan debt.
Behind the rally’s speakers, students held signs such as, “College should not be a debt sentence,” and “Higher ed, not higher debt.”
The rally was organized by Senator Vincent Hughes, Philadelphia.