Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: News_Shapiro_2: Josh Shapiro in 2019 by Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr

On Feb. 6, Governor Josh Shapiro addressed the new blueprint for higher education in his budget proposal. Shapiro indicated that his administration will invest $279 million annually starting in the fall semester of 2025 in order to decrease student debt. His budget indicates a 15% increase from $850 million to $975 million in state investment for PA state-owned universities, according to dced.pa.gov.

Shapiro addressed that under his plan, “no student or family making the median income or below will have to pay more than 1,000 dollars per semester for tuition and fees in this new system.” His administration intends to increase Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grants for students by at least $1,000. Shapiro proposed this plan in hopes of giving “Pennsylvanians the freedom to chart their own course and the opportunity to succeed.” Gov. Shapiro’s website states that, “Under Governor Shapiro’s plan, higher education will serve as an economic driver for Pennsylvania, prepare workers for the future, and address workforce shortages.”

Pennsylvania colleges will see changes to their education system with this new proposed plan. According to gov.pa.gov, PA currently ranks 48 for affordability and 49 for state investments in higher education, which Gov. Shapiro aims to improve. 

Dr. Margaret Ervin, President of the WCU Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF), told The Quad that “APSCUF is looking forward to working with the Governor as more details of his plan for higher ed are developed, and we are very happy that he has his eye on increasing the standing of Pennsylvania in terms of higher education funding, as currently we are 49th in the nation in funding higher education.” 

According to wcupa.edu, many students are currently paying an estimate of $10,576 per semester for tuition and fees to attend WCU at the moment, not including housing. If Gov. Shapiro’s plan is put into effect, students would be able to pay off their student loans more efficiently, as well as put more money into housing or other needs. 

WCU associate professor of education, David I. Backer stated his concerns for this plan to The Quad: “If that reduction comes with a performance-based funding formula from the state that comes back around to reduce funding generally, then it’ll hurt all students by hollowing out the universities, no matter how low the price tag gets for median income students.” These concerns come from questions arising about how this plan will function. “The bad news comes when you ask ‘how does that work exactly?’ The answer appears to be a significant change in how appropriations are calculated at the state level—how much money Pennsylvania gives to PASSHE [Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education] schools. The new plan introduces the concept of a ‘performance-based’ funding formula. Rather than a simple per-student calculation, for instance, the state government will now calculate state funding according to certain outcomes,” expressed Backer. 

Dr. Dana Morrison, WCU associate professor of education, also communicated concerns on Gov. Shapiro’s budget plan to the Quad: “As a professor of educational policy, I’m particularly worried about the performance-based funding aspect of his plan. We have decades of research that shows what happens when you tie funding to performance, no matter how altruistic the performance metrics might be. Inevitably, the aspects of education that aren’t prioritized in the formula get pushed aside. So even though the Governor’s proposal will incentivize schools to recruit students pursuing degrees in high-demand fields, such as education and nursing, what will get left behind in that competition? Typically the arts and the humanities get pushed aside, limiting students’ opportunities for a diverse, meaningful educational experience. And that’s just one way in which a performance-based funding system could impact WCU and our sibling institutions around the state.”

Dr. Morrison also expressed concerns for other factors that go into the price of a student’s education. “Sadly, it’s difficult to say that simply lowering tuition will affect students in a drastic manner. Large portions of educational costs (at WCU and other schools) are due to the high price of living on and around campus. As many of my students have shared with me, more than half of their total costs come from housing, particularly for students that live in the private USH dorms or in off-campus apartments with sky-high rent prices.”

Dr. Ervin and Dr. Morrison have both worked alongside APSCUF in supporting legislative initiatives, such as the Pennsylvania Promise. This bill would provide full tuition and fees for the four years a student attends a PA college. Students from families making under $60,000 would also have their room and board covered, according to apscuf.org. Dr. Morrison expressed that “this is a more comprehensive plan to address high tuition costs in the state. It covers more of the costs of higher education and more students in the commonwealth.” Dr. Ervin demonstrated support from APSCUF to the Governor’s plan, “This legislation has been years in the making and to date has passed the house education committee, but now that the governor has a plan, we are behind that as well.”

Third-year criminal justice student Rebecca Huynh provided The Quad with a comment on Gov. Shapiro’s plan: “If passed, this budget plan would hugely benefit me and many other students as it would allow us to not stress on our education. I would be able to put more money towards my student loans as well as not worry as much about how I’ll be able to afford my next semester. I just hope this plan doesn’t take years to be passed and that current students can actually be rewarded for their education.”

 


Brianna Chau is a third-year Political Science and Philosophy major. BC976136@wcupa.edu

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