Rendell Urges Prompt Action on Tuition Relief Plan

PITTSBURGH – Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s plan to make college tuition more affordable for every Pennsylvania family earning under $100,000 a year will help more than 170,000 students once in place, while putting a college degree within reach of 10,000 students who otherwise would be unable to afford tuition or might leave the state to attend college.

“The national economic downturn has worsened the crisis facing families who are struggling to save for college,” Rendell said during a visit to the Community College of Allegheny County’s Allegheny Campus. “Many families who saved diligently for their children’s education have watched those savings quickly evaporate — through no fault of their own. That’s why it’s essential for the General Assembly to approve my plan right away.”

Under the Pennsylvania Tuition Relief Act announced as part of the governor’s 2009-10 budget proposal, all incoming students who qualify and seek to attend state-owned or community colleges will pay what they can afford in accordance with established financial aid practices. Every family will pay at least $1,000 a year for each child in college.

For families with income under $100,000, students could obtain as much as $7,600 in relief for tuition, fees, room and board. This relief will greatly enhance the affordability of higher education, Rendell said.

If promptly approved by the General Assembly, the plan would start this fall with incoming freshmen. To pay for this program, the governor proposed that the commonwealth enact legislation to legalize video poker and tax its proceeds – an idea that has been well-received by the public. Other states have successfully generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue using this approach.

Under the Tuition Relief Act:

-Everyone will pay something, but a student pays only what he or she can afford.
-Many families earning less than $32,000 a year will pay just $1,000 for tuition, fees, room, board and books.
-Every family that qualifies will receive thousands of dollars in tuition relief, and many will save as much as three-quarters of the total bill for tuition, fees, room, board and books.
-Families that do not qualify for PHEAA grants but who earn less than $100,000 a year also will benefit, more than doubling the number of State System students receiving state-funded financial aid grants. These families will receive a grant for half the cost of tuition – about $2,700 in savings at the State System.

In addition to providing immediate aid to families, Rendell said his tuition relief plan also would alleviate the often crushing debt that too many college graduates bear.

“Three out of four students who graduate from our public universities begin their professional life with massive debt, averaging nearly $19,000 a student,” the governor said. “That debt often hampers their ability to establish their careers, purchase a home and start a family.”

The governor’s budget also includes a $35 million increase in Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) tuition grants. This increase will dedicate $10 million to provide grants to nearly 10,000 additional community college students while ensuring that other college and university students do not lose their grants as a result of a reduction in contributions to student grants by PHEAA.

Enrollment at many community colleges has increased dramatically due to the national recession, and Rendell’s dedicated new PHEAA funding for community college students as well as a $5 million increase in community college operating support will keep tuition costs under control.

Both of the governor’s higher education proposals will enable 20,000 additional students to seek college degrees – even in these hard economic times.

For more information on the Tuition Relief Act and Pennsylvania’s other education initiatives, visit the Department of Education Web site or here.

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