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Tuition relief pilot program moving through legislature

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(The Center Square) – A $275 million tuition relief pilot program moved one step closer to reality for Pennsylvania college students.

The House Education Committee approved the Pennsylvania Promise Pilot Program on Tuesday that provides “last dollar assistance” to students whose total annual household income is less than $200,000.

“Last dollar assistance” covers the remaining cost after all federal, state, and institutional assistance has been applied toward a student’s education costs. The coverage applies not only to traditional students but also to returning adults and includes those attending private institutions.

“This is important because Pennsylvania’s independent non-profit colleges and universities actually serve the most students with financial need,” said Rep. Paul Takac, D-State College. “Forty-five percent of all low-income Pell and PHEA Pennsylvania students go to an independent college or university.”

Before voting on the bill, the committee passed an amendment that increased the program’s appropriation from $225 million to $275 million, a price tag opponents say is too high.

“One thing we know is that more money will be flowing out, and right now, we’re not exactly sure in the next couple years what money will be flowing in,” said Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford. “While I appreciate the concept, the price tag on this is astronomical for a pilot program.”

Rising tuition is a major area of concern for legislators across the aisle, and the program is just one of many strategies being considered to address the issue.

The University of Pittsburgh and Penn State are both in the top 10 most expensive state-related universities in the country. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education remains one of the most expensive in the nation despite tuition freezes.

Proponents of the bill argue that immediate action is necessary to give today’s students the opportunity to pursue higher education – including Majority Chairman Peter Schweyer, D-Allentown.

“While those longer-term discussions are happening, we are trying our very best to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good and try to get as much out there as possible,” he said.

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