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Senate sends Republican-led higher education package to House


Senate sends Republican-led higher education package to House

Jun 11, 2024 | 6:34 pm ET
By Ian Karbal
Senate sends Republican-led higher education package to House
Senate Education Committee Chairperson Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, leads a hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

The Pennsylvania Senate passed the last of a series of Republican-authored bills aimed largely at making higher education more affordable for Pennsylvanians.

Two of those bills would create new scholarships or grants. One grant would be for Pennsylvania students studying to enter in-demand career fields at in-state schools. Another would be a merit scholarship for out-of-state students. Both would require students to live and work in the state following graduation.

“We have worked towards the end goal of addressing the significant economic and demographic challenges that Pennsylvania is facing,” said Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), one of the architects of the higher education-funding package.

“More and more young people are simultaneously choosing to relocate to other states, and better educational and job opportunities. The best way to address this crisis is to encourage the best and the brightest students, both here in PA and throughout the country, to earn degrees here, get jobs here,  and put down their roots here.”

The bill targeting in-state students received a unanimous vote in the Senate. A single Democrat, Sen. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery), voted against the bill creating a merit scholarship for out-of-state students.

“Generally speaking, [the bills] are a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), a progressive Democrat who is generally at odds with Republicans. “But Pennsylvania’s problems in higher education funding can’t be fixed with a grant here and a scholarship there. We cannot dig our way out of this hole by awarding individual scholarships. This is a broader problem of how we fund, or rather don’t fund, higher education in Pennsylvania.”

The bills will have to be agreed to by the Democrat-controlled House.

The other parts of the education package that passed were voted on along partisan lines. 

One of those bills would create a council to come up with a performance-based funding model for state colleges and universities. The other would create a higher education task force within the Department of Education that would make recommendations about how state school operation, such as eliminating inefficiencies or making community college credits more easily transferable.

Williams cautioned against taking up a performance-based funding higher education model, noting that many states that tried to implement them ended up reversing-course. She cited a recent oped written by members of the Westchester University faculty warning that such a model could put a greater premium on graduation rates than the quality of education.

“In higher education, it may be easy to count the number of graduates, but the process of creating a college graduate is anything but simple,” Williams said.

Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), supporting the bill, said “We can not continue to invest more in a system without any respect to the outcomes that system is producing.”