As students across the region begin their well-deserved spring break season ahead of finals and graduation, it’s a good time to reflect on needed reforms in the higher education system in Pennsylvania. The current system of rising student debt, outmoded systems of instruction, and disconnection from workforce needs is not serving anyone well or earning an adequate return on investment for students, employers or taxpayers. Changes are needed and they must be structural, student focused and workforce driven.

In response to the mounting challenges, there have been recent movements across the higher education landscape to mitigate losses in attendance, shore up programs and reduce costs. However, the system cannot change sufficiently from within, and policymakers must lead by taking action to build the future of education for the next generation of Pennsylvanians.

There are several proposals on the table between Gov. Josh Shapiro’s recent educational blueprint, President Joe Biden’s continued efforts to force-feed student debt forgiveness, a new PA Promise scholarship program to reach the underserved and meet workforce needs, and the state Legislature’s work to rein in higher education spending with the focus on accountability and transparency through performance-based budgeting. Each of these proposals has merit but must also be hammered into a framework by the Legislature to come to life. 

Elected officials must work together to find the right path for our students. I believe we can align and move forward around several principles that represent our shared values and a path forward to put our students first, make Pennsylvania the standard of education and help more students achieve their dreams.

As we pursue education reform, any action must be taken within a balanced and restrained budget.  The shortcomings inherent in the education system cannot simply be fixed by more spending. Financial measures taken to reform education in our Commonwealth should aim to improve transparency and accountability within our institutions of higher learning. As results are demonstrated and good governance evidenced, additional resources may flow accordingly. While observing fiscal responsibility and paying for performance, we must also increase educational choices for students and their families. This can be done by expanding funding allocation for Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) through increased state grants for students to pursue higher education at the college of their choice. 

These guiding principles for higher education in Pennsylvania will help us work through other innovative ideas for efficiency, such as the proposal to combine Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities and the community college system, or moving state-related institutions towards privatization over time. With the right focus on fiscal responsibility, transparency, accountability and student choice, the future of education in Pennsylvania will create more opportunities for our students and provide effective degree programs that equip the next generation to enter the workforce ready for life.

Each Pennsylvania student deserves the best education possible, and we must take appropriate actions to ensure the Commonwealth is providing this while consistently improving. Together, we can reform higher education in a manner reflective of our shared values and create a path forward of which all Pennsylvanians can be proud.

Rep. Rob Mercuri represents the 28th Legislative District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *