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  • Daniel Li

Pennsylvania Governor Overhauls State University System

Courtesy of Penn Live


Access to higher education in the United States is considered a gateway to future success; however, as tuition has increased across various notable public and private institutions since 2021, it is becoming increasingly difficult for students of all financial backgrounds to attend. Both lower and middle-class families consistently have been seen to be unable to afford to send their children to college. Over 35% of families earn less than $48,000 a year or face large student debts, resulting in financial strain or losing out on job opportunities. Additionally, it has been a challenge for many states to maintain and expand funding for many programs, opportunities, and student services across various universities to ensure the future of their students and their prosperity in the workforce. In Pennsylvania, Governor Josh Shapiro (D-PA) noticed the same issues plaguing his state and proposed sweeping statewide changes to the university system. His proposal targets tuition costs and expansion of funding for these schools, which, in the long run, would allow more families in Pennsylvania to send their children to college. 


Out of all 50 states, Pennsylvania is ranked number 48 in college affordability and number 49 in investments toward its public university system. In collaboration with The Higher Education Working Group, a group of higher education leaders across various universities in Pennsylvania appointed by the governor to propose ideas on ways to improve colleges statewide, a four-point plan was formulated to tackle these challenges. The plan immediately won support and endorsements from various college leaders across the state, including Dan Greenstein, the Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, who strongly believes that this will expand paths for students to get a degree or a skills certificate in a more efficient manner and with less financial strain.  


Shapiro’s new proposed system will consolidate the governance of four-year institutions and community colleges due to limited resources and the inability to support an increase in student enrollment over the last few years. This initiative aims to streamline operations by placing ten public universities and fifteen community colleges across the state under one umbrella, which would reduce competition for funding among institutions. According to Shapiro, the competition for funding among state-funded universities created a negative chain effect where the duplication of degree programs and increasing tuition costs led to a decrease in enrollment. Under one umbrella, Shapiro believes the states will retain an equitable amount of funding while maintaining their programs for students. To accomplish this goal, Shapiro plans to increase the overall budget for this new structure to $975 million, which is a jump from $850 million in 2023. However, notable public institutions such as Pennsylvania State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, and private nonprofits like Drexel University and Villanova University will not be affected by the changes, but they will receive a five percent increase in funding. Cynthia Shapira, Chair of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors, praises this effort because it will allow universities to maintain a tuition freeze for the seventh consecutive year. 


Additionally, tuition costs will be reduced for many families across the state, while funding for various schools will be partially determined by performance. With a proposed increase in the budget, tuition costs for schools under the restructuring plan will not exceed $1,000 per semester for families with income that aligns with the state median of $70,000. For others, this roughly places the in-state tuition at $7,716 a year. Additionally, Shapiro will also look to increase state grants for Pennsvylanian students who decide to stay in the state for college by $1,000, with a maximum of $5,750. The Shapiro administration has made it clear that this will give universities around the commonwealth an incentive to recruit students as well as support them in obtaining a degree that will contribute to certain fields of work that are facing shortages. Moreover, Shapiro’s proposed increases will target a fallen enrollment rate at Pennsylvania state colleges. In the past two decades, enrollment has fallen by 100,000 students. Within these numbers, 88% are from that state itself and come from families making under $100,000. Making college more accessible will allow for opportunities to open up to lower and middle-class families that may lead to future success. 


Shapiro will also look to increase funding based on university performance. Focusing on increasing graduation rates of each university, especially within the demographic of first-generation students who can impact the workforce immediately and their families as well, will be considered in the criteria of performance. These factors will open access to higher education among various communities in Pennsylvania and lead to a diverse workforce across the commonwealth for many years to come. As for now, the bill reaches the legislature for adjustments and negotiations to pass. 


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