Fighting for affordable higher education

Across the Commonwealth this June, Pennsylvania students have joined their classmates, teachers and families to celebrate high school graduation.   I want to congratulate the Class of 2011 for their hard work and achievement. 

Together, we can also celebrate some great news for Pennsylvania college students.  On June 16, 2011, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) contributed $50 million to the Commonwealth for use in the Pennsylvania State Grant Program.  PHEAA has funded the supplement with its business earnings, at no cost to taxpayers, which will grow maximum award amounts by approximately $700 and increase the number of grant recipients in the 2011-2012 academic year.  PHEAA’s contribution will help Pennsylvania to invest in its people and bring down the cost of college for more students.

As many graduates prepare to continue their education, I understand why families have deep concerns about the rising cost of college.  I believe that anyone with the drive and desire to pursue the opportunities afforded by higher education should be able to realize that dream, regardless of their personal financial situation.  In recent decades, however, tuition has grown at an alarming rate.  Since 1988, college tuition has increased almost 130%.  From 1996 to 2008, the share of family income required to support a student paying the average price at a public four-year institution increased from 14.4% to 27.8%.  For many families, that soaring price tag translates into onerous debt and financial uncertainty.

I share the goal of many parents to support my daughters as they pursue higher education.  As a U.S. Senator, I have fought to keep that dream within reach for all Pennsylvania families.   Pell Grants are the single largest source of financial assistance for higher education provided by the federal government.  I successfully supported the increase in the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550 per year, while joining my colleagues to ensure the program’s long-term financial sustainability.  As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I have also worked to ensure that excellent schools prepare students for the academic rigor of college, and enable them to complete their degree within four years.

Education is an investment in the Commonwealth and the nation, as a well-educated workforce is the foundation for a strong and competitive American economy.  Please rest assured that the graduates of the Class of 2011, their families, and all Pennsylvania students are on my mind as I continue to fight for affordable higher education.