Research group proposes free tuition for PA students

The proposal would raise income tax by 1 percent and would cost $1 billion per year.

A research group and a lobbying group submitted a joint proposal to increase state taxes in order to make tuition free or reduced for in-state high school students accepted to Pennsylvania state and state-related universities like Temple.

In January, the Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center announced their proposal for the “Pennsylvania Promise,” a plan that would cut costs for students going to college in Pennsylvania.

The plan offers four years of need-based grants ranging from $2,000 to $11,000 for high school graduates accepted at state-related universities: Temple, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University and Lincoln University, according to the program’s report.

Students with an annual family income less than or equal to $110,000 who are attending state universities, like West Chester University and Kutztown University, could receive four years of free tuition. Recent high school graduates attending public community colleges as full-time students in Pennsylvania could get two years of free tuition.

The plan is expected to cost more than $1 billion per year and could be funded by different taxes or tax increases on the “highest-income” Pennsylvania residents, according to the report.

By raising the personal income tax rate by 1 percent, the center claims that only a quarter of that new revenue would be needed to fund the program every year. It also proposes that half of the revenue from a progressive tax that raises taxes on high-income people could fund the program.





The state could also introduce a severance tax, which is tax on the extraction of fossil fuels, that would target drilling from the Marcellus Shale formation, said Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center.

Drilling regions in the state often do not have inexpensive community colleges, according to the report, which makes attending post-secondary education difficult for students in these regions.

Funding could also come from a .054 percent flat tax on net worth or financial wealth, resulting in $540 every year from each taxpayer with $1 million in financial assets.

Pennsylvania Promise has received support from legislators like state Sen. Vincent Hughes of the 7th District. On Jan. 23, Hughes called for affordable education for students, alongside researchers from Keystone Research Center and members of the state House. The House’s Democratic Caucus also came out in support of the proposal, Price said.

A plan similar to the Pennsylvania Promise was implemented in New Jersey in 2015. Rutgers University’s Camden Campus waived tuition and fees for students whose families make less than $60,000 per year. Rutgers also covers half the tuition of students whose families earn between $60,000 and $100,000 per year.

Megan Crimi, a sophomore actuarial science major who transferred to Temple this year from Northampton Community College, said this plan would have provided her with more financial opportunity.

“I had always planned on first attending community college and then transferring to Temple since high school,” Crimi said. “I knew with my [financial] situation, I would have definitely been unable to pay for Temple’s tuition right out of high school, so Northampton was my only option.”

“If this plan were in place by the time I had graduated high school, I would have enrolled into Temple right away,” she added.

Pennsylvania is one of the lowest ranking states in terms of public higher education investment.

“One of the key drivers for rising tuition in the public schools was that the general assembly in Pennsylvania have been making fewer contributions over time to finance public higher [education],” Price said.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, Pennsylvania is ranked last on its higher education list, which considers average tuition costs, student debt, graduation rate. The state is ranked 47th for low student debt after graduation and 48th for tuition in fees.

The Pennsylvania Promise could rank the state 36th if it is enacted, according to the proposal.

Lacey Caprari, a sophomore nursing major, transferred from Luzerne County Community College to Temple this semester.

“If I knew the route I wanted to take with my education in high school, I probably would have transferred after a year of community college instead of transferring after almost two years,” Caprari said. “My mom is a single mom, and I have a brother and a sister and we are all in college, so a plan like that could have helped our family a whole lot.”

Price said he urges college students to reach out to their state representative to advocate for this funding.

“Talk to them about the challenges you face and tell them you support a proposal like this,” he added. “That could make it more real.”

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