Wolf renews higher-ed scholarship idea, amid worker shortage

The governor hopes to start a new scholarship program for college students. Pa. still ranks at the bottom among states in the level of aid it offers for higher education.

West Chester University Philips Memorial Building

West Chester University Philips Memorial Building. (West Chester University)

Two years after he first proposed it, Gov. Tom Wolf is trying to engage the Legislature anew in his bid to start a major new scholarship program for college students in Pennsylvania, but on Tuesday said the idea has new urgency because of difficulties in finding workers across industries.

The time is right, Wolf said in an interview, because the state is in a strong financial position, and because of growing demand for workers, including college graduates.

Wolf’s proposal two years ago came just before the pandemic, which then dominated activity in the state Capitol and drowned out just about everything else.

But, by just about every measure there is, Pennsylvania is still ranked at the bottom among states in the level of state aid for higher education, size of student debt and affordability of its colleges.

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Now, Wolf is floating the plan again, with some differences.

Wolf’s proposal involves drawing $200 million a year, the same amount. But he is scaling back its reliance on subsidies from the horse-racing industry and substituting federal coronavirus relief funds, at least for the first couple years.

Wolf’s new plan also makes community college students eligible, in addition to students at one of the 14 state system universities.

Students who could benefit must meet certain family income limits, graduate from a high-demand degree program and then stay in Pennsylvania for a certain period of time.

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