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Shapiro touts proposed higher ed overhaul for Pennsylvania during CCAC visit

(Credit: Shapiro Twitter)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 27, 2024

PITTSBURGH — Gov. Josh Shapiro toured the Community College of Allegheny County on Tuesday and offered more details on his proposed plan to unite the 10 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities with the state’s 15 community colleges.

Under the governor’s plan, the schools would equally split a 15% funding increase Shapiro included in his state budget proposal, he explained Tuesday.

“After 30 years of basic disinvestment in higher education at the state level, too many of our colleges and universities are just running on empty,” Shapiro said, “ and not enough students have affordable pathways through college and into good jobs staying here in our Commonwealth.”

Shapiro proposed a significant overhaul for higher education in Pennsylvania in his 2024-25 budget, including combining the two- and four-year schools and capping tuition and fees at $1,000 per semester for low and moderate income students. That would include students whose families earn $70,000 per year or less.

The plan also calls for increasing Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grants for students attending private universities by $1,000, and distributing state appropriations to Pennsylvania’s state-related universities – the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities – according to a performance-based formula.

Pennsylvania, Shapiro said Tuesday, has “failed to pay the bill for too many years,” which has put it 49th among states for investment in higher education, and 48th for education affordability.

“Governor, I want to thank you because I think it takes a whole lot of courage to say: we’re 48 out of 50 in affordability – and even at 48 out of 50, I am not just going to sit back and let that happen,” Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said Tuesday at CCAC.

An alumnus of CCAC, Gainey said the school had been a crucial part of his education. “If I didn’t have CCAC, if it wasn’t affordable, if it wasn’t a place that I could come in order to get my grades up so that I could go to a four year college and graduate I wouldn’t be here today,” Gainey said. “So I understand just how important it is to ensure that our college or junior colleges are extremely affordable.”

Shapiro said the 15% funding increase would go toward funding the new system “to play a game of addition.” He added there would be a separate “ask of the legislature for additional funds to reduce tuition for students.”

During a Feb. 21 budget hearing in Harrisburg, members of the state Senate Appropriations Committee questioned PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein about the plan, including what the cost of the proposal to limit tuition to $1,000 would be. Greenstein said he was not involved in drafting the governor’s proposal, but that he supported it.

According to the state Department of Education, Pennsylvania would create a new public system where the state universities and community colleges would be equal partners, and the state doesn’t plan to eliminate the community colleges’ existing governing boards.

The goal would be to get the new system up and the higher ed plan passed in the budget process in the current calendar year, Shapiro said Tuesday. “And then we’ll come back next year with an additional request for the students that are beginning to go through that new system to be able to hold their tuition to no more than $1,000 a semester if they’re median income or below,” he said.

“It’s time to build on this new blueprint for higher education in Pennsylvania and leave a lasting legacy,” Shapiro said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.