Gov. Josh Shapiro proposes tuition caps to make college more affordable and accessible

To help reverse the downward trend in higher learning, Shapiro wants to make college more financially accessible.

Gov. Shapiro at a press confende

File photo: Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro arrives before President Joe Biden speaks in Blue Bell, Pa., Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. Shapiro's administration says he plans next month to propose steps toward fixing a state higher education system that's among the worst in the nation in affordability. The administration didn’t release many specifics Friday, Jan. 26, and says the Democratic governor will give more details in his Feb. 6 budget address. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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Gov. Josh Shapiro Friday proposed a $1,000 cap on tuition and fees per semester at state-owned universities  for families earning up to $70,000.

His plan also calls for a $1,000 increase to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency grants that can be used at state-related and independent colleges.

The proposals are part of Shapiro administration’s reorganization of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), which includes state-owned schools such as Bloomsburg Commonwealth University, Cheyney University and West Chester University, along with state-related schools, including Pennsylvania State University, Lincoln University and Temple University.

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State-related schools — those which are not owned by the Commonwealth — still receive a substantial amount of funding from the Pennsylvania government. The system also includes the state’s 15 community colleges.

Cheney and Lincoln are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The announcement, which Shapiro described as a new blueprint for higher education, will focus on “competitiveness, workforce development, access and affordability.” It comes just days from Feb. 6, when he will present his budget address. At that time, Shapiro said he will also propose “a significant investment” in the state-owned university system, community colleges and their students.

“Every Pennsylvanian deserves the freedom to chart their own course and opportunity to succeed,” Shapiro said in a statement. “For some that means going right into the workforce — but for those who want to go to college or get a credential, we need to rethink our system of education.”

Whether seeking to brush up on skills, qualify for a promotion, or pursuing a degree that leads to a career, education should be accessible and affordable, he said.

“That’s true for every student, whether you attend one of our historic HBCUs, a community college, a PASSHE institution, a state-related university, or an independent college or university,” he said.

According to Shapiro the blueprint came out of his Higher Education Working Group, made up of educational leaders throughout the state.

In the past three decades, the state’s university system has been underfunded.

For example, Pennsylvania spends less on higher education compared with most other states, and ranks near the bottom in college affordability.

In the last 10 years, enrollment in the PASSHE system is down by 30% and community college enrollment has decreased 37%.

The group of educators has made a number of recommendations to improve the state school system, such as: Creating a new system to manage education to better address the state’s needs; increasing access and affordability; and increasing transparency and improving outcomes by adopting a more fair and performance-based funding formula.

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Temple University President Richard Englert said the university is “eager to collaborate with the governor’s efforts to support our students, ensure greater access, affordability and excellence in higher education, and spur economic growth in the Commonwealth.”

Neeli Bendapudi, Penn State president, said the initiative “presents a significant opportunity,” for the school and other state-related universities.

Lincoln University President Brenda Allen also praised the blueprint and its call for a more fair, outcomes-based, funding formula that would benefit the school and others.

“A higher education opens the door for our students,” Allen said. “Here at Lincoln, we empower students to learn, liberate and lead throughout their lives.”

Molefi Asante, a professor of African American Studies at Temple who  has examined educational funding formulas for years, applauded Shapiro. Asante said this initiative should help all the universities in the state system, but will especially benefit Cheney and Lincoln, which have both been woefully underfunded for years. Calling the governor’s proposal to cap tuition to $1,000 per semester “just a start,” he said, “It’s a bold and futuristic project and it gives the Commonwealth a fresh start.”

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