By Carin Holmes
Assistant News Editor
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf proposed his 2021 legislative agenda on Feb. 3rd, which focused heavily on what he called the commonwealth’s “unequal and underfunded” educational system.
Included in the legislative agenda is the governor’s proposal of creating the Nellie Bly College Tuition Program, as previously covered by The Keystone News after Governor Wolf’s visit to KU in 2020. This needs-based tuition program could serve as a lifeline to students and families who may not have the money to afford a college education and would be held back by significant student loans.
The program would provide financial assistance to students who are enrolled full-time in Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) institutions.
“There is a student loan debt crisis across our country,” the governor’s legislative plan says. “It’s a burden on young people and their families that can last for years and holds them back.”
This program is meant to help fill the gap that often exists between the cost of tuition and the total cost of college. The program will help pay for all college expenses, not just tuition, and costs such as room and board, books, supplies and graduation expenses would all be covered under the program.
The program would come at an important time for Pennsylvanians. Pa. had the highest average student loan debt per resident in 2019 with an average of $36,000. This program would help change the long-term outlook for qualifying students and their families.
This proposed program would only be available to qualifying students who attend one of the fourteen PASSHE schools, which includes Kutztown University. According to the legislative plan, there would be priority given to students who intend to go into the fields of health care or education after graduating.
In exchange for the financial assistance, students agree to stay in Pennsylvania for the same amount of years they received the assistance for. If the recipient moves out of Pennsylvania during the period they had committed to stay, the program would convert the grant to a loan that needs to be paid back to the commonwealth.
Governor Wolf proposed that $199 million be set aside for the Nellie Bly College Tuition Program by repurposing existing money that is currently going to the Horse Racing Development Fund. When this program was proposed for the first time last year, it was promptly met with backlash from the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition who said that it would “result in the end of horseracing in Pennsylvania.”
It is unclear at this time what eligibility requirements there would be for this program other than being a full-time PASSHE student. However, it is clear that this program could be a great benefit to KU students and PASSHE as a whole.