HARRISBURG, Feb. 4, 2015 – To ensure a brighter future for more Pennsylvanians, a coalition of state senators today unveiled a 13-bill package that would make it more affordable for students to attend college and graduate with less debt.

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The College Access Plan, or CAP, was introduced today by state Sens. Anthony H. Williams, Vince Hughes, Rob Teplitz, Andy Dinniman, Lisa Boscola, Larry Farnese, and John Wozniak.

“Going to college requires a substantial amount of money that most working families do not have. This leaves our young people loaded down with debt,” Williams said during the press conference. “Our CAP proposal would ensure that more students who are discouraged by higher education’s large tuition fees and unfair financial aid packages receive the means and incentive to continue pursuing their graduation plans and dual enrollment opportunities for a tuition free education.

“From merit-based scholarship programs to on-time graduation plans, more dual enrollment opportunities to a free tuition lottery, CAP promises to change the future for thousands of Pennsylvanians,” 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 economically 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 (Sen. 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.

“We must provide educational opportunities for young people that will help them develop skills that are useful in sectors of our economy that are growing,” Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Hughes said. “That’s why I have offered a bill that would allow health-related companies to offer students pathways to employment in that growing industry. Together, we can create a 21st-century workforce that allows young people to stay in Pennsylvania.”

Sen. Teplitz is proposing bills that would create STEM HELP and state authorized reciprocal agreements.

“If we’re going to move Pennsylvania forward toward a brighter future, we must invest in education and in our students. Access to a quality and affordable education can and will provide students with a solid path toward a good career,” said Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry), who noted that Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) is a prime co-sponsor of his STEM HELP proposal. “I’m proud to contribute two bills to the College Access Plan and I look forward to working with my colleagues to pursue ways to help our students achieve their dream of earning a degree.”

Like many of the senators proposing legislation under CAP, Senate Education Democratic Committee Chairman Andy Dinniman is proposing two bills: Dual Enrollment Task Force and the PA College Access Challenge Grant.

“College accessibility and affordability are key to our continued economic growth and recovery,” said Dinniman. “By expanding opportunities for dual enrollment and advanced placement programs we can provide a direct pathway to higher education for high school students who are ready to learn at the college level but are deterred by college-level costs.”

Sen. Boscola is proposing the Academic Excellence Scholarship Program and Credits for Approved Job Training.

“My bills are aimed at getting Pennsylvania workers the kind of education and job experience they need to find jobs in some of the most promising careers available in Pennsylvania,” Boscola said. “Both of my bills were tailored to give our best and brightest students access to good colleges and promising careers – while enhancing Pennsylvania’s workforce and economic future.”

“Having two kids recently graduated from college, I understand the financial hardships that student loans present to our graduates,” said Sen. Wozniak, who is introducing the PA Educated and Employed Loan Forgiveness program. “Pennsylvania has some of the highest costs for public, private and community college education in the nation, and we fund public higher education at approximately 50 percent of the national average.”