Meadville Tribune

February 19, 2009

VIDEO: Gov. deals tuition aid plan to full house



Rendell outlines plan for tuition aid from The Meadville Tribune on Vimeo.



By Ryan Smith

MEADVILLE TRIBUNE

EDINBORO — If it’s going to help her and her parents pay for college, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania freshman Emily Klees said she’s all for it.

On Thursday, Gov. Edward G. Rendell visited the Edinboro campus to discuss his proposal to make going to college in Pennsylvania more affordable by legalizing video poker and taxing its proceeds. He said if passed, the measure could add up to as much as $7,600 a year in relief for more than 170,000 students attending state-owned or community colleges.

“It seems like a good idea,” said Klees. “My parents are helping me pay for college.”

Doing that was hard enough before the national economic downturn, Rendell said to an invited crowd at Edinboro’s Frank G. Pogue Student Center. Now, the downturn “has worsened the crisis facing families who are struggling to save for college. Many families who saved diligently for their children’s education have watched those savings evaporate — through no fault of their own,” Rendell said.

That stated, Rendell is pushing for the state General Assembly to promptly approve his Pennsylvania Tuition Relief Act, announced as part of the governor’s 2009-’10 budget proposal. If approved, the plan could start this fall with incoming freshman.

Under Rendell’s proposed relief act, all incoming students attending state-owned or community colleges would pay what they could afford as established by state financial aid practices. For families with income under $100,000, students could obtain as much as $7,600 yearly to help pay for tuition, fees, room and board.

Families earning less than $32,000 a year would pay $1,000 a year for each child in college, Rendell said.

The governor’s budget also includes a $35 million increase in Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency tuition grants. That increase will dedicate $10 million for PHEAA grants to nearly 10,000 additional community college students, Rendell said.

Rendell and his staff said their plan to boost tuition aid by as much as $550 million a year with revenue from the proposed legalization and taxation of video poker machines has been well-received by the public, and noted other states have successfully generated hundreds of millions in revenue using the same approach.

The proposal “is not an expansion of gambling,” but a way the state could cash in on legalizing the game and “utilize tax dollars to the benefit of so many of our citizens,” Rendell said Thursday.

Not all state lawmakers are on board with the Democratic governor’s plan, however. Earlier this week, Republican state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called for a $145 million expansion of Pennsylvania’s tuition aid program and limits on tuition increases at most colleges and universities that receive state subsidies. Piccola said his proposal, which would qualify 25,000 additional students for the grants administered by PHEAA, would be financed mostly by eliminating tax breaks for the film industry and reducing state aid for more than a dozen private schools and museums.

He portrayed his proposal as being more realistic than Rendell’s, and questioned the accuracy of the administration’s projected gambling revenue.



Ryan Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at rsmith@meadvilletribune.com.



At a glance: the Tuition Relief Act

Here are some key points of Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s proposal to make going to college in Pennsylvania more affordable by legalizing video poker and taxing its proceeds:

- Every student pays something, but no more than the state determines he or she can afford.

- Families earning less than $32,000 a year could pay only $1,000 for tuition, fees, room, board and books.

- Qualifying families could receive thousands in tuition relief, with some eligible to save as much as three-quarters of the total bill.

- Families that don’t qualify for Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency grants but that earn less than $100,000 a year could be eligible for other state-funded grants to pay for half the cost of tuition.

- More information: Visit the state Department of Education Web site at www.pde.state.pa.us or www.pa.gov



What are your thoughts on the governor’s Tuition Relief Act?



Kyle Jordan

East High School senior

“It’s really generous of him. It shows that he really cares about our future.”



Sarah Ragecki

General McLane High School senior

“I think it will be a very good opportunity for a lot of kids because (college) is really expensive. If I’m eligible, it will cover quite a bit and I think it will help me a lot.”



Stephen Nemec

East High School senior

“The plan sounds really good. I think it’s a good idea.”



Joe Dombrowski

Edinboro University graduate student

“I agree with it.”