The two left-leaning think tanks this week released a report, called “The Pennsylvania Promise,” outlining a plan that could reduce tuition for 137,000 students a year.
With a Republican-controlled state Legislature, however, finding the money to fund such a proposal could be a near-impossible task.
“Our No. 1 challenge, I think, clearly is can you find a way to generate revenue that has broad support in the General Assembly,” said Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center who co-authored the report.
“It’s not politically viable, and I don’t think it’s budgetarily or economically viable,” Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument, from Peach Bottom, said. “It’s not getting to the core of the issues in higher education.”
The “Pennsylvania Promise” program would cover two years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate enrolled full-time at any of the Commonwealth’s 14 public community colleges, and cover four years of tuition and fees for recent high school graduates with an annual family income of $110,000 or less at any of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities, which includes Millersville.
It would also provide four years of grants, from $2,000 to $11,000, for students accepted into any of the four state-related universities — Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln — as well as support adults without a college degree seeking industry credentials and college credits.
Therein lies both the solution and the problem.
The solution: reducing college costs in Pennsylvania by up to 40 percent, Price said. Tuition and fees in Pennsylvania are up 66 percent in the last 15 years, and median student loan debt is up 27 percent since 2000, according to the Keystone Research Center.
Meanwhile, the center reports, Pennsylvania is ranked 47th in per capita expenditures on higher education. The 2017-18 budget included $1.32 billion in higher education funding, just over 1 percent more than the previous fiscal year.
The problem: To fund the Pennsylvania Promise, the state must shoehorn an additional $1 billion into its annual budget.
That $1 billion would come from a tax increase, whether it be from an increase in the corporate net income tax, a natural gas severance tax, a higher income personal income tax rate or a wealth tax.
Although Aument said he “applauds” groups trying to make college here more affordable, the solution isn’t throwing more money toward “higher ed institutions and higher ed bureaucracy.”
The proposal doesn’t have legislation attached to it yet. But if it does, Aument said the chances of it passing are slim.