Sunday, August 18, 2013

Two Bills Provide Hope for Higher Education in Pennslvania

The Oregon legislature recently passed unanimously a bill, “Pay it Forward,” bill that authorized a pilot program to students to attend Oregon public universities tuition free.  This innovative idea might have sparked a higher education revolution in Pennsylvania. Two Philadelphia area legislators, who are both running to replace Allyson Schwartz in the US Congress, raced to copy the innovative idea albeit taking different approaches. 

While many of my journalism colleagues have written about the race to introduce the bill, I believe that high education is too important an issue to play insider baseball with it. 

Pa State Senator Daylin Leach, whose district included part of Montgomery and Delaware counties, argues with Pennsylvania having one of the lowest college graduation rates in the country, the state vitally needs an overhaul of its higher education system so its citizens will have the skills to work in this economy and jobs don’t need to be sent overseas.

The bill of Representative Brendan Boyle, who represents Northeast Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania House, mirrors the Oregon bill.  He wants to mandate the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency to study the issue and run a pilot program.

“I am probably the only public official that still had $60,000 in student loan debt, said Boyle, who went to Notre Dame on an academic scholarship. “I have been a leader on higher education issues since I was elected to the House 5 years ago. I introduced the bill for the REACH Scholarships for academically gifted students, which was modeled after the HOPE scholarship program in Georgia.”

Leach will be introducing a bill in September that outlines a plan to implement the free tuition program. He is working with Representative Mark Longetti, who represents Mercer County.

“We don’t feel a need to study the issue, “said Leach’s chief of staff Zachary Hoover. “We think it is such a good idea that it should be implemented immediately.

Leach’s proposal, “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back,” initially calls for an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale to establish the fund. He expects the fund to be self-sustaining after 15 years.

“Students will be able to borrow from the fund to pay for their tuition interest free, said Leach. “It will not be a case of them borrowing $100,000, and owing $150,000 because of the interest they racked up."

Once they start working, those that borrowed will have their wages 4% a year until they repay the loan.

“For those that do not find a job, their loans will not be in default, explained the Senator. “The loan proceeds will be repaid by an insurance policy that they took out when they originally borrowed the loan. If the loan is for $100,000, they will borrow $110,000. $10,000 will be used to buy an insurance policy.”

For those that ask why they should care about high education costs when they don’t have children, Boyle has a ready answer.

“The indebtedness of our young people affects the economy, particularly industries such as real estate,” he said. “Young people are delaying purchasing home because of their large student loans. A local real estate agent told me that he used to see people in their mid to late twenties buying home, now they wait until they are in their mid-thirties.”

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