(STL.News) – Governor Tom Wolf visited West Chester University today to discuss how his innovative Nellie Bly Scholarship Program, a historic $204 million need-based scholarship, would help students in the state’s university system achieve their dream of earning a college degree while graduating with less debt and building lives in Pennsylvania.
“The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program fills the gap after other aid programs so thousands of students can afford college,” said Gov. Wolf. “With less college debt, graduates can buy a car and a home, start a family and save for retirement. The program also strengthens our public university system and creates a talented labor force that Pennsylvania needs to thrive.”
The Nellie Bly Scholarship is a last-dollar-in program. The scholarship would apply after a student’s Pell Grant and other state grants to enroll in one of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities.
To be eligible, students must enroll full-time in a PASSHE undergraduate program and qualify for a federal subsidized student loan. Students must commit to live in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years they received the scholarship. If a student leaves the state early, they must repay the money. The program will be funded by repurposing revenues from the Horse Racing Development Fund annually.
“There is a student loan debt crisis in our country. It’s a burden on young people and their families that can last for years and holds them back,” said Governor Wolf. “This proposal is an investment in the future of our students and encourages them to stay in Pennsylvania after graduation.”
The governor was joined by West Chester University President Christopher Fiorentino and students for a news conference in the Sykes Student Union Building.
The scholarship is named in honor of Nellie Bly, an Armstrong County native born in 1864. Bly attended the Indiana Normal School, now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but left due to the cost. Bly became a pioneering journalist who helped to force reforms to the mental health care system in the early 20th century.
Nearly a century later, higher education remains too expensive for many low-income and middle-class families. The student loan debt for Pennsylvania residents is $68 billion, among the highest in the nation, averaging over $37,000 per student.
In addition to the $204 million for the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program, the governor’s budget invests in higher education with $12.9 million to support PASSHE’s system redesign and a $60 million increase for the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, which serves more than 130,000 students and will increase the maximum award to $4,700.
The governor is visiting all 14 PASSHE universities to highlight the importance of the program for the future of the students and the state. The governor launched the tour yesterday at Lock Haven University.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the commonwealth with 95,000 students. In addition to West Chester University, the system includes Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock.