A proposed bill would address the costs of public community colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.
Sean Crampsie (left), director of government relations for APSCUF; Dr. Susan Morris Rutledge, assistant professor; Dr. Kevin Koury, dean of the College of Education and Human Services; and India Washington, student and Campus Election Engagement Project fellow.
A proposed piece of legislation called the Pennsylvania Promise would show a recommitment to education in Pennsylvania.
This was the consensus during a panel discussion sponsored by the American Democracy Project at Cal U on Oct. 30.
Panelists included Dr. Kevin Koury, dean of the College of Education and Human Services; Dr. Susan Morris Rutledge, assistant professor, Secondary Education and Administrative Leadership; Sean Crampsie, director of government relations for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties; and India Washington, a student majoring in political science who is a Campus Election Engagement Project fellow.
The Pennsylvania Promise would pay for two years at Pennsylvania's public community colleges or four years at its public universities for students whose family income is below $110,000.
Citing statistics from debt.org, Washington said average student loan debt in 2017 was more than $37,000, and a total of $1.5 trillion in total student loan debt is carried in the United States.
“The student loan debt has gotten out of hand, and this stops milestones of achievements for the young graduates who are too burdened with debt,” she said. “We can’t keep going this way and expect people to regularly spend in the economy.”
Koury touched on the uphill battle this bill faces.
He explained that, led by Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), this legislation was introduced to committees in June as Senate Bill 1111 and House Bill 2444.
“The actual bill submitted to both committees is the same language, but I want you to see the dynamics and dichotomous issue that we deal with in politics,” Koury said.
Koury said he sees “zero chance” of the legislation being brought up this year.
Morris Rutledge said she still owes for her education, despite paying on it for 20 years and spending 11 years in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“Regardless of the type of education, we all want to be educated. But somebody’s got to pay for it,” she said. “That being said, the Promise gives you another alternative, another choice.
“Pennsylvania will be successful if this goes through. If they choose not to, then it is on the state and is its responsibility and accountability for not educating its (residents).”
Crampsie said Pennsylvania ranks 47th in per capita funding for higher education.
“We are at the bottom of the barrel, and it’s kind of embarrassing when you look at what other states are doing,” he said. “Our state is punting on its obligation to higher education.”
He said the 14 schools in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education take students from the bottom 60 percent of household incomes across the state. The majority end up in the top 40 percent of state earners.
“We are taking students who are working-class and turning them into higher earners, but the downside is we see more than a million people with some college credit who have not finished.”
Koury and Morris Rutledge concluded the discussion with simple advice.
“Contact your legislators and tell them you support the bills,” Koury said.
Morris Rutledge added, “At the end of the day, we all want an education, and if you fight for it, you’ll get it, because your voice matters.”