The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fortunate to have many excellent public community colleges and universities, as well as dozens of notable private liberal arts colleges and universities. In the 2021-2022 academic year, 366 colleges were active – ninety-five of them being public institutions, and two hundred seventy-one being private institutions – all collectively serving a population of 695,651 students.
The average acceptance rate for Pennsylvania colleges is currently at 73.71 percent, with an average graduation rate of 64.17 percent, higher than the national average of 33.3 percent graduation rate for public institutions and 52.8 percent for private institutions.
However, Pennsylvania ranks lower than many other states for higher education state aid, student debt size, and the affordability of a college education. Dan Greenstein, chancellor of the 14-university Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, has warned repeatedly that the state is not graduating enough college students to keep up with demand, putting the state at risk of losing businesses searching for college-educated students.
Governor Wolf has been outspoken about the state’s need for college-educated workers and the higher education scholarship program that he has repeatedly proposed to help relieve the burdens on Pennsylvania students. In his last budget, the Governor allocated $200 million to the Nellie Bly scholarship fund for students who attend either a community college or Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institution. He noted this was possible thanks to the state’s strong financial position.
The program, which will be funded by both the federal American Rescue Plan Act and the Race Horse Development Trust Fund money, would go to tuition and relevant costs of attendance, with a focus on those pursuing programs with high-workforce needs following the pandemic (such as healthcare, education, and public service). Students who take advantage of the program must stay in Pennsylvania to live and work for the same amount of time that they received the scholarship benefit.
While the scholarship plan has gotten support from Democratic lawmakers, Republicans have opposed the plan due to its use of tax money meant for the horse-racing industry. They also said they oppose Governor Wolf’s plan leaving out students who go to other colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, particularly private institutions.