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Bills proposed to lower costs for Pennsylvania college students

State Senate Democrats are trying to lower costs for college students in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers unveiled a series of bills on Wednesday called the “Colle...

State Senate Democrats are trying to lower costs for college students in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers unveiled a series of bills on Wednesday called the “College Access Plan.”

CAP, was introduced Wednesday by state Senators Anthony H. Williams, Vince Hughes, Rob Teplitz, Andy Dinniman, Lisa Boscola, Larry Farnese, and John Wozniak.

Senator Williams outlined the idea behind the bills which are designed to encourage more students in Pennsylvania to attend college.

"This package of bill which we have today does specifically three things: It is increasing college access, it is decreasing student debt, and it is jump starting Pennsylvania`s economy," Williams said.

Andrew Kissinger, a senior at Shippensburg University, shared his story about the high price of a college education. He said he is expecting to pay $500 a month for 10 years once he graduates in May.

“The very degree which I hoped would make me economic viable, has effectively rendered me economically and financially crippled,” Kissinger said.

The proposals have not yet been assigned bill numbers but include:

  • The Academic Excellence Scholarship Program (Sen. Boscola) would be merit-based and provide up to $5,000 for high school students to attend college and stay in Pennsylvania following graduation,
  • STEM HELP (Sen. Teplitz) would be a $50 million program designed to allow STEM majors to pay back their student loans through a Pay-It-Forward plan. Participants would be required to stay in Pennsylvania for five years after graduating,
  • PA College Access Challenge Grant (Sen. Dinniman) would deliver bridge funding to the state Department of Education so it may continue the work of its Challenge Grant team and invest in programs that help kids graduate from high school and go to postsecondary institutions,
  • PA Pathways to College Act (Sen. Farnese) would target high-need high schools and deliver supplemental funding additional counselors, training and resources for college prep,
  • Free Tuition Lottery (Sen. Williams) would be operated by PHEAA and the revenue generated would provide free tuition and need-based grants for low-income students,
  • PA Educated and Employed Loan Forgiveness (Sen. Wozniak) would allow loan forgiveness to graduates of State System of Higher Education universities who live and work in the commonwealth for five years following graduation. The $10 million fund would forgive up to $15,000 in loans for applicants from families with incomes of $70,000 or less,
  • Health-related Industries Education Scholarship Fund (Sen. Hughes) would deliver financial assistance to students in health care programs through a Pay-It-Forward plan and tax credits for businesses,
  • Credits for Approved Job Training (Boscola) would generate work-based learning tax credits for businesses that provide internships to high school students in high demand “gold collar” jobs like biotechnicians, medical technicians and network administrators. Students could then obtain credits that would transfer to a postsecondary program in that field,
  • Financial Literacy (Williams) would require that students learn about personal finance in kindergarten through 12th grade,
  • State Authorized Reciprocal Agreements (Teplitz) would give PDE the authority to enter into interstate reciprocity agreements to deliver postsecondary distance education opportunities,
  • Dual Enrollment Task Force (Dinniman) to identify and recommend opportunities for earning college credit while attending high school after considering current secondary curricula, hybrid learning scenarios, and possible AP expansions,
  • State Tax Return Check Box for 529 Savings Accounts (Rep. Smith) would give tax returners the option of depositing any refund directly into a 529 college savings account, and
  • Fly in 4 (Williams) would model similar programs at Temple and Penn State that create incentives and guarantee support services for students to ensure on-time graduation.