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### Overhauling Higher Education: Governor’s Comprehensive Reform Blueprint

By Peter Hall |

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro spoke to the press in Philadelphia on February 16, 2023, unveiling a groundbreaking proposal that could revolutionize higher education affordability in the state.

Under this initiative, many students could attend a semester at a state university or community college for just $1,000, a move that Governor Shapiro will outline in his upcoming budget address.

Governor Shapiro, who secured his position in 2022 with a pledge to enhance access to higher education and bolster Pennsylvania’s workforce, emphasized the urgent need for reform. He critiqued the current state of higher education during his first budget address, highlighting the deficiencies in the system.

Asserting that every Pennsylvanian should have the freedom to pursue their desired path, whether in the workforce or through further education, Shapiro underscored the necessity to reevaluate the higher education landscape.

Over the past three decades, Pennsylvania’s public universities have faced significant disinvestment, resulting in limited affordable options for students seeking degrees and career opportunities. Comparative data indicated that Pennsylvania allocates less funding to higher education than almost any other state, except New Hampshire.

Governor Shapiro’s proposal aims to address these challenges through a comprehensive three-part strategy:

  1. Integrating the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities with the state’s 15 community colleges under a unified governance structure.
  2. Implementing a \(1,000 per semester tuition fee for low and moderate-income students at these institutions, while also boosting grants for students attending private universities by \)1,000.
  3. Allocating state appropriations to Pennsylvania’s state-related universities based on a performance-driven formula.

This plan garnered support from Democratic lawmakers, who praised its potential to alleviate the burden of student debt and enhance accessibility to quality education.

Conversely, Republican lawmakers, while acknowledging the plan’s student-centric approach, expressed concerns about its financial implications and the need for more detailed information regarding funding sources.

The proposed changes, highlighted Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, are significant and require meticulous examination to assess their feasibility, impact on taxpayers, and implications for local communities hosting state universities.

While the plan received backing from various educational leaders, including PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein and Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi, it also faced criticism from State Rep. Seth Grove, who raised apprehensions about its financial sustainability and bureaucratic implications.

As discussions unfold and details are refined, Governor Shapiro’s vision for a more accessible and efficient higher education system in Pennsylvania stands poised to shape the future of learning and workforce development in the state.