This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphia legislators have introduced bills in the state Senate and House of Representatives that would give low-income and middle-class students full tuition scholarships to community colleges and state-related universities.
The set of bills, referred to as “PA Promise” would give scholarships to students whose family income is less than $110,000 a year and waive room and board costs for students whose family income is less than $48,000 a year.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), while the House bill is sponsored by Jordan Harris and James Roebuck, both of whom are also Philadelphia Democrats.
Hughes, the father of college graduates, said he believes helping young people with the costs of college is the way to solve “many of the world’s most difficult problems.”
“Education is the great equalizer and the best tool to achieve beyond the social class into which a person is born,” Hughes said. “Having a quality education opens up so many doors and opportunities, but many of our youth never get that opportunity because of the high costs of education. That is ridiculous, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage people bettering themselves through education.”
Pennsylvania ranks 40th among the states in the number of adults ages 25-64 who have attained a college degree. It is the lowest-ranked state for higher education access because of high tuition and fees and large amounts of debt after graduation.
The bill would cost about $1 billion a year to implement.
Diana Polson, a policy analyst at Keystone Research Center, said investing in higher education now – despite its large upfront costs – can help foster long-term economic growth in Pennsylvania in the future. She added that low rankings regarding education in the state can deter companies from locating in the area.
“These stats paint a bleak picture, and underinvesting in education is what has led to poor educational attainment for our adults,” Polson said. “All of this has a larger impact on the economy, especially when companies are looking at basing in [Pennsylvania] and seeing what skills our workforce has.”
Luke Smith, a sophomore business student at Temple University, commutes from Northeast Philadelphia and works at an on-campus restaurant in order to minimize his college debt.
“I’m paying for college with mostly loans, and then whatever else out-of-pocket with my money from working,” he said. “It’s hard to balance work and academics, especially as you’re coming up on your junior and senior years.”
Smith said the PA Promise bills would benefit him immensely.
“It would give me the ability to focus solely on school without having to worry about any extra things, like having to pay excess tuition out-of-pocket,” he said.
The bills have been referred to the respective houses’ Education Committees. Hughes said he is “hopeful [the bill] gets a vote soon, but does not have a timetable.”
The General Assembly is on summer recess until mid-September. All the House seats and half the Senate are up for election in November.
The Notebook is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Read more at https://brokeinphilly.org and follow us on twitter @BrokeInPhilly.