Higher education in the Commonwealth may be in store for big changes.
Gov. Josh Shapiro announced a three-point plan on Friday that has been in development for over a year.
Much of the blueprint is based on the work of the Higher Education Working Group – a group of higher education leaders from across Pennsylvania appointed by Shapiro to develop a series of recommendations for improving higher education in the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania spends less on higher education than every other state except New Hampshire. The long-term erosion of state support in Pennsylvania has increased the financial burden on students and institutions, resulting in tuition hikes, cuts in services, and the need to take on more debt, the governor’s office said.
“Every Pennsylvanian deserves the freedom to chart their own course and the opportunity to succeed,” said Shapiro. “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 higher education. Whether you want to take one course to brush up on your skills, earn a certificate to qualify for a promotion, or pursue a degree that will lead to a new career – you deserve accessible, affordable higher education options.
“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. That’s exactly what my plan will deliver, and we’ll build a higher education system that opens up doors of opportunity, prepares our workforce, and serves as the linchpin to Pennsylvania’s economic success.”
The Three-Point Plan
First, the governor’s plan will build a new system for higher education that unites Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities and the state’s 15 community colleges under a new governance system, preserving local leadership while uniting both types of institutions behind the goal of educating Pennsylvania.
Second, once that new system is in place, Shapiro’s plan will make significant investments to ensure higher education is both affordable and accessible to all, regardless of the family’s income level or where they reside. He proposes that Pennsylvanians making up to the median income pay no more than $1,000 in tuition and fees per semester at state-owned universities and community colleges. At state-related universities (i.e. Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln) and independent colleges (i.e. Allegheny, Franklin & Marshall, Scranton and Washington & Jefferson), the plan will increase Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grants for all students by $1,000.
Third, Shapiro is proposing that direct appropriations to publicly funded colleges and universities be distributed on the basis of a predictable, transparent, outcomes-focused formula that will incentivize colleges and universities to focus on what’s most important to the Commonwealth. The formula will take into consideration factors including but not limited to increasing enrollment, the number of first-generation college students that receive credentials, and the graduation rate.
What They’re Saying
“PASSHE’s remarkable transformation over the past six years shows that a collaborative system is good for students, communities, and employers, and we know higher education can accomplish so much more by uniting,” said PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein. “The governor’s proposal is a real opportunity to build upon the strengths of PASSHE universities and the community colleges. Together we can create a new, larger system with better collaboration that gives students more pathways to a degree or credential, rapidly adjusts to the changing knowledge and skills employers want, and provides the lowest-cost option for students throughout their lifetime.”
“At HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College), we believe that a college education should be accessible to all – no matter their background,” said John J. “Ski” Sygielski, President and CEO of HACC. “Governor Shapiro’s vision of a higher education sector sets Pennsylvanians, including current and future HACC students, up for success by making it easier for them to transfer earned credits, build skills that employers are seeking and save time and money in the process.”
Republicans praised the early ideas, but want to see more details to the plan.
“We are glad to see the Shapiro administration join with House Republicans in prioritizing students and families while balancing the financial needs of the Commonwealth as part of this plan,” said Jason Gottesman, press secretary to Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), the House Republican Leader.
“While the administration’s announced plan is currently light on details, we will work with education stakeholders, the administration, and Pennsylvania families to continue moving away from the endless funding of systems in Pennsylvania so we can move toward a student-first, family-focused, and taxpayer-accountable system of higher education.”
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Westmoreland) acknowledged the initial effort and also looks forward to more details on the plan.
“I appreciate the perspective put forth by Gov. Shapiro within his proposal and believe his plan is well intended,” said Pittman. “The types of changes being proposed are no small undertaking and notably absent from the announcement is the amount of funding required to effectuate the plan. Two key considerations with any substantive changes must be the additional costs to taxpayers, as well as the impact on local communities where our state’s higher education institutions are located.
House Republican Appropriations chairman Seth Grove (R-York) was not as kind when discussing Shapiro’s new Higher Education “blueprint.”
“I am glad the Governor recognizes the success of the House Republican Caucus to bring accountability and transparency to the state-related universities as well as fight for tuition freezes and our continued fight to protect Jewish students from antisemitism on campus,” Grove said. “If that is what the Governor considers political gamesmanship, we need more of it in Pennsylvania. His proposal to eliminate the last remnants of non-preferred bills is a direct result of leadership by the House Republican Caucus during this past Great Betrayal Budget Impasse using this process to achieve meaningful reform for Pennsylvania students.
“Apparently, after a year of work, the best the Shapiro administration could come up with is a poor copy of Minnesota’s higher education plan. It’s just following another state in financial peril like Pennsylvania. This plan isn’t even innovative or bold. To put it mildly, if the higher education “blueprint” was for a house, I wouldn’t step foot inside of it.”
Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh), the House Education Committee Majority chairman, said he wanted to make sure that students’ needs come first.
“For me it’s always going to be about one thing – making sure our college students have the shortest, most affordable path to getting the degree they need in the field they want so they can have the career and the life they deserve. The governor’s plan to streamline operations is a great proposal that aligns with the modern changes we’ve been pushing for, and my committee is going to work hard to get the facts on what works and what we can do better for the students – because what’s good for them is good for our Commonwealth in the long run.”
Full details of the plan will be released as part of Shapiro’s full budget pitch on Feb. 6.