The Senate sends the Republican-led higher education package to the House of Representatives

The Pennsylvania Senate has passed the latest in a series of Republican-authored bills aimed at making higher education more affordable for Pennsylvanians.

Two of these bills would create fresh scholarships or grants. One of the grants would go to Pennsylvania students studying in-demand career fields at state schools. Another would be a merit scholarship for out-of-state students. In both cases, students would be required to live and work in the state after graduation.

“We have been working toward the ultimate goal of solving the significant economic and demographic challenges facing Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), one of the sponsors of the higher education funding package.

“More and more young people are choosing to move to other states for better educational and career opportunities at the same time. The best way to address this crisis is to encourage the best and brightest students, both here in Pennsylvania and across the country, to earn their degrees here, find jobs here, and put down their roots here.”

A bill aimed at state students received a unanimous vote in the Senate. One Democrat, Sen. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery), voted against a bill establishing a merit scholarship for out-of-state students.

“Generally speaking, [the bills] this is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), a progressive Democrat who generally disagrees with Republicans. “But Pennsylvania’s higher education funding problems can’t be solved with a scholarship here and a scholarship there. You can’t get out of this hole by awarding individual scholarships. This is a broader issue about how we fund, or rather don’t fund, higher education in Pennsylvania.

The bills will have to be approved by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

The remaining parts of the education package that were adopted were voted on along partisan lines.

One of those bills would establish a board that would develop a performance-based funding model for state colleges and universities. A second solution would be to create a higher education task force within the Department of Education to make recommendations on how public schools should operate, such as eliminating inefficiencies or making it easier to transfer credits earned at colleges.

Williams cautioned against adopting a performance-based higher education funding model, noting that many states that have tried to implement it have ended up reversing course. She cited a recent one article written by Westchester University faculty members warning that such a model could place greater emphasis on graduation rates than on the quality of education.

“In higher education, it may be easy to count the number of graduates, but the process of developing a college graduate is not simple,” Williams said.

Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), who supports the bill, said, “We cannot continue to invest more in the system without respect for the results the system produces.”

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