Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pa. lawmakers introduce bill to overhaul higher education

Old Main, Penn State's administrative building on the University Park campus.
Emily Reddy
Old Main, Penn State's administrative building on the University Park campus

Like many students, Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, went to community college.

But his next move brought challenges when it came to four-year schools accepting credits from his two-year program.

“I looked at Duquesne,” he said. “I looked at Pitt. Neither one of those were accepting all of the credits that I had, but IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) was. And that led me to my decision to go to IUP.”

Costa is sponsoring legislation to create a State Board of Higher Education that would coordinate activities and resources among the different higher education institutions from: state-related to state system to community colleges to private colleges.

The board would be able to do things such as recommending curricula and making recommendations on tuition.

It would consist of the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Labor and Industry, two senators, two representatives and nine gubernatorial appointees.

The legislators would be evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. They would be appointed by their respective caucuses.

The governor’s appointees would consist of college representatives from different types of schools, students, a union representative and a business representative.

Because some colleges and universities focus on specific trades, the board would be able to create something similar to a subcommittee to make recommendations on what should be taught, Costa said.

The board would also ease the stress of schools gathering having to find resources or state funding. Should the board come to fruition, it can recommend what and how many resources should be earmarked for schools

Approving the resources is ultimately the decision of the General Assembly.

The legislation would also increase Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency state grants by $1,000 for students in a median-income household. The grants supplement college costs.

“The goal is to be able to create an environment where more kids have the opportunity to go to school,” he said.

Enrollment in Pennsylvania universities has declined 12.4% since 2017, according to University Business.

In Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal, he called for community colleges to be united with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

This bill would not do that, which resonated with Republican Senate Education Chair Sen. David Argall, R-Carbon.

Argall said he “will continue working with the bipartisan members of the Senate and the House to better prepare our college students for the realities of the 21st century workforce.”

A companion bill was also introduced in the state House by Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh.

Republican Education Chair Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, had less favorable views of the measure, arguing it creates unnecessary bureaucracy for the diverse systems of schools in the state.

“We have a system that has private schools, has a public school system, has community colleges,” he said. “All of these schools are different. … To try and kind of put a group that oversees all of them and puts metrics on all of them. Well, that’s not going to work because they don’t do the same things.”

Both Argall and Topper expressed support for the Republican’s “Grow PA”education reform plan.

The GOP measure would do things such as provide funding for students heading into high-demand fields such as agriculture, energy and technology.