Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

COVID-19 is taking up most people’s lives, including Gov. Wolf’s, who joins in on many daily briefings with Pennsylvania officials. While it may seem like many of the other issues have taken a backseat to the global pandemic, Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal is still in the works, and many have said that the current situation in the world only highlights the need for reform in Pennsylvania. In a quote to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jared Walczak, a director of state tax policy at the Tax Foundation, has said Pennsylvania “finds itself particularly ill-prepared” for the financial consequences the coronavirus will bring. 

One part of Wolf’s proposal introduced a new tuition-assistance program, the Nellie Bly scholarship, which would come with a hefty price tag of $204 million. With the current state of the world, and Pennsylvania specifically, many believe it’s clear that PA higher education needs reformation. One person in support of Wolf’s scholarship is state representative and WCU alumnus, Carolyn Comitta, who represents the borough of West Chester as well as surrounding areas.

Rep. Comitta called the Nellie Bly scholarship a “huge step in the right direction,” adding that bringing down the cost of higher education to students should be “our number one priority.” Comitta is actively involved in not only the borough of West Chester but the university as well as part of the Dean’s advisory board for the college of arts and humanities, according to her website. When Gov. Wolf proposed his budget in February, Comitta made a statement commending his proposals. The statement included that she was “proud” to see Governor Wolf prioritizing education, among other issues, in his address. 

While Comitta has commented that PA has an “amazing system of higher education and some of the best schools in the country,” the funding does not reflect that. “Pennsylvania does not seem to realize the value of higher education,” Comitta said, adding that “some students are beginning to decide against getting an education because of the cost” and those who do end up with debilitating debt. “As a state, we need to invest in our students so they can graduate unencumbered by massive debt.”

These issues are what Gov. Wolf seeks to fix with his proposed scholarship. However, not everyone is happy with where he proposed the funding would come from. Wolf suggested allocating money from the horse racing trust fund to fund his program. Many PA officials and those involved in the horse racing industry have criticized this suggestion, citing the impact on the economy and the agriculture industry if the money is relocated. Comitta confirmed her support for the program but said she would like to look into different sources of revenue. “I believe it is possible to support our students and one of the most important industries in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” she said.

One of the reasons the higher education system is in need of reform is the declining rates of enrollment, reflecting a bigger issue in PA of a declining younger population. Comitta had one word for this decline in enrollment: affordability. She cited the undergraduate in-state tuition rates going up by around $2,000 since 2010. The Nellie Bly scholarship, she says, would make college “an affordable option for thousands of Pennsylvania students” and “has the potential to break down barriers for people who would have never considered higher education as an option.” 

One of the stipulations of receiving tuition assistance is a requirement to stay in the state for however many years you received the scholarship. Keeping those highly educated students in Pennsylvania would have “far-reaching economic implications,” Comitta claimed.

“The goal of good governance is to leave things better than how you found them,” said Comitta. “It is a continual process of making adjustments and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.” While she doesn’t believe there is any fix-all to the problem with higher education in Pennsylvania, she believes “this is the most practical way to lift the burden on our students, so they are not carrying a debilitating debt once they graduate.” 

Alison Roller is a fourth-year English major with a minor in journalism.

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