Gov. Wolf Aims to Help College Students Learn and Stay in Pennsylvania

February 05, 2020

Governor Tom Wolf today met with high school students and parents concerned about the rising cost of higher education and the student debt crisis. The governor outlined his historic budget proposal to provide scholarships to thousands of college students attending the 14 state-owned universities. The $204 million Nellie Bly Scholarship Program would close the gap after a student’s Pell Grant and other state grants to enroll in a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) university, allowing more students to graduate on time with less student loan debt.

“Pennsylvania must be a place where students can pursue their dream of a college degree,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “Most good-paying jobs require training after high school, but too many students and families can’t afford the rising cost of college. The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program will help thousands of students to go to college, get a degree and start a career in Pennsylvania.”

The governor talked with several students and parents at Carlisle High School in Cumberland County today. They described their concerns about paying for higher education and the burden of student loan debt for young people and their families. The governor explained his Nellie Bly Scholarship Program proposal, which he unveiled yesterday as part of the 2020-21 budget address.

To be eligible, students must enroll full time in a PASSHE undergraduate program and qualify for a federal subsidized student loan. Students must commit to living in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years they received the scholarship. If a student leaves the state early, they must repay the money. The program will be funded by repurposing revenues from the Horse Racing Development Fund annually.

“The student debt crisis is a burden on young people and their families that can last for years and holds them back from affording necessities, buying cars and homes, and saving for retirement,” said Governor Wolf. “The Nellie Bly Scholarship is an investment in young people so they can get an affordable world-class education at a PASSHE university and provides an incentive to stay in Pennsylvania and build rewarding lives here. It’s also the perfect next step to strengthen our workforce after expanding apprenticeships and hands-on job training for those who don’t want to go to college.”

The scholarship is named in honor of Nellie Bly, an Armstrong County native born in 1864. Bly attended the Indiana Normal School, now the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but left due to the cost. Bly became a pioneering journalist who helped to force reforms to the mental health care system in the early 20th century.

Nearly a century later, higher education remains too expensive for many low-income and middle-class families. The student loan debt for Pennsylvania residents is $68 billion, among the highest in the nation, averaging over $37,000 per student.

In addition to the $204 million for the Nellie Bly Scholarship, the governor’s budget invests in higher education with $12.9 million to support PASSHE’s system redesign and a $30 million increase for the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, which serves more than 130,000 students and will increase the maximum award to $4,700.

The governor’s budget also provides a $435 million increase for pre-k to 12 education, including $100 million more for public schools using the fair funding formula, $25 million more for special education and $30 million more for high-quality early childhood education. The budget also saves school districts $280 million through comprehensive Charter School Law reform.

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