Lawmakers to introduce free college bill |

Lawmakers to introduce free college bill

Deb Erdley
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
The Pennsylvania State Capitol on Nov. 19, 2015, seen from State St. in Harrisburg.

A pair of Philadelphia lawmakers said they will introduce free college legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly Wednesday.

The move comes as lawmakers, who have yet to backfill the 2011 reductions to higher education spending, scramble to balance spending and revenue projections and get a budget bill to Gov. Tom Wolf in advance of the June 30 deadline.

Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, D-Philadelphia and state Rep. James Roebuck, D-Philadelphia said they intend to introduce bills in the House and Senate Wednesday morning in Harrisburg.

Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties represents faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities where officials have been struggling with rising costs and declining enrollment. Mash said he hopes the proposal starts a conversation about college becoming more affordable in Pennsylvania.

“We have a real crisis of affordability in Pennsylvania. I’m not Pollyannaish. I don’t think this is going to happen tomorrow or in this budget but if we don’t start the conversation nothing will change,” Mash said.

He said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in at least discussing the package that would cost an estimated $1 billion a year.

The proposal, dubbed the “Pennsylvania Promise,” is similar to legislation adopted in New York State and was designed to expand access and affordability at Pennsylvania’s community colleges and state-owned and state-related universities.

In a sponsorship memo, Roebuck, the minority chair of the state House Education Committee said the program—based on a study conducted by the Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center– would be administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

The legislation was designed to underwrite two years of tuition and fees for recent high school graduates attending one of the 14 community colleges and four years of tuition and fees at a state-owned or state-related university for students with a family income of $110,000 or less per year. Students whose family income is $48,000 or less also would be eligible for assistance with costs associated with room and board.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib

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