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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: April 29, 2021 01:39 PM
From: Representative Jordan A. Harris
To: All House members
Subject: 2021 Nellie Bly Scholarship Program
Pennsylvania’s four-year public higher education system is unaffordable. That means the commonwealth’s most economically disadvantaged students cannot access these schools, even with maximum Pell and PA State Grants.  Students and families have to borrow to finance their postsecondary educations, resulting in student and parent debt that takes years to pay off, delaying financial independence for students and delaying retirement for their parents and/or grandparents. Commonwealth funding for public higher education has decreased over time. The buying power of federal and state need-based grants has decreased over time. Since 2010, tuition and fees at public higher education institution have increased 16 percent.  To cover these increased costs, approximately 70 percent of Pennsylvania students borrow on average $39,000 over four years to pay the difference between the cost of their education and what financial aid covers. This is the second highest debt burden among states nationally and is nearly $10,000 more than the national average of $29,900. Pennsylvanians have an estimated total $68 billion in student debt. These challenges will impact Pennsylvania’s ability to reach its postsecondary attainment goal and meet its workforce and economic needs.

So what is the solution? Creating the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program for students attending PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities, with priority for students pursuing careers in education and health care. The Nellie Bly program provides a scholarship to full-time undergraduate PASSHE students with a household income of under $104,800. For the most economically disadvantaged students, the scholarship covers the tuition and fees gap not covered by a student’s Pell and PA State Grants.  Students can receive a scholarship for up to 8 full-time semesters and must make a commitment to stay and work in the commonwealth for the same number of years they participated in the program.  The scholarship converts to a loan if the student moves out of the commonwealth during the commitment period and can be deferred while the student pursues further education. The Nellie Bly program also creates an Emergency Grant Fund at PASSHE to meet any emergency expenses scholarship recipients might have including books, paying final account balances, or other nominal costs that often prohibit students from registering for classes or obtaining transcripts.

The program will serve nearly 44,000 students, reducing financial barriers and the student loan debt burden, while encouraging student progression and on-time graduation.  With less college debt, graduates can buy a car and a home, start a family, and save for retirement. College graduates will have the means to invest in their future, as well as the economic stability of the commonwealth. Please join me in strengthening the commonwealth’s 14 public universities and providing a sustainable regional workforce by co-sponsoring this legislation.