Rendell pushing for boost in tuition aid

February 1, 2009 2:50:22 PM PST
Gov. Ed Rendell is proposing a $128 million plan to boost financial aid for students entering the 14 universities in the state system or community colleges this fall, and also wants to provide more help for current students. Students whose family income is less than $100,000 would be eligible for up to $7,600 for tuition, books, fees and room and board when they enter the 14 State System of Higher Education universities and the 14 community colleges. Rendell also proposes adding $45 million in grants to current and incoming students through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

"Among all of the serious problems families are facing, perhaps the most serious is the decision about whether they can continue to afford to send their kids to college," Rendell said. "That's particularly true if someone has been laid off or (has gotten) a poor-paying job. Those are gut-wrenching decisions."

The state spent about $407 million last year on aid grants, and Rendell's plan represents an increase of about $173 million.

The proposal would set aside $10 million in grants for new community college students and restore $35 million in grant cuts made by PHEAA last year. The tuition aid would not apply to students at the four state-related universities - Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln.

In November, the state Education Department said in a report that Pennsylvania ranks sixth in terms of cost for a public college education, $532 over the national average. Students on average graduate with more than $19,000 in debt, higher than students in many other states.

For a family of four earning $30,000 a year, state university costs that now total $7,700 a year after Pell and PHEAA grants would drop to $1,000 a year under Rendell's plan. A family of four earning $75,000 a year and qualifying for a PHEAA grant would see college costs drop from $14,300 a year to $9,250.

State officials estimate that after four years, the program will have helped 10,000 students who would not otherwise have gone on to college or would have gone in another state.

"The No. 1 thing we're hearing not only here but around the country is that the biggest casualty for many families may be college simply because tuition is so expensive," Rendell said.

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