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As I prepare to enter my junior year at Clarion University, my passion for funding higher education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has never been higher. I believe we should invest in public higher education to reach a solution that works for students, faculty, and coaches. This begins with the Pennsylvania Promise.

John Danvers, APSCUF intern

In this piece, which originated as a research paper I wrote for my English class last year, I’ll also outline how Pennsylvania can make that promise happen.

Quite simply, the Pennsylvania Promise is “a plan to make higher education affordable in the Commonwealth.” For students coming from a family income of less than or equal to $110,000 per year, that student would have four years of tuition and fees covered at any one of the 14 State System schools. The Pennsylvania Promise would also cover tuition and fees at any community college in the Commonwealth, as well as four years of tuition and fees “not to exceed the State System tuition rate” at any state-related university.

PA Promise legislation is in the State House as HB 2444 and in the State Senate as Bill 1111. It provides a pathway for students who may not otherwise be considering college to attend school and achieve the American Dream. Whether that Pennsylvanian is from Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, it would allow those who need help the most to lift themselves out of poverty.

The economic benefits the Commonwealth receives from facilitating affordable higher education are tremendous. From a microeconomic perspective, Pew Research Center says, “the gap in median annual earnings between a worker with a high school diploma and one with a college degree is $19,550. According to a Pew Research analysis of census data, over the course of a forty-year working life, the typical college graduate earns an estimated $550,000 more than the typical high school graduate, even after factoring in the costs and foregone earnings associated with going to college.”

Also, I think it’s important to note the macroeconomic benefits reciprocated from funding higher education. Research published by Philip A. Trostel, an economics professor at the University of Maine, shows that “college education creates substantial state and local tax revenues. Each bachelor’s degree leads to roughly $55,600 in additional state income taxes over a lifetime. In present value using a 3% discount rate, bachelor’s degree holders pay, on average, 2.5 times as much state income tax as high school graduates without college.”

In translating this outlook for long-term government revenue flows, the government spends about $74,500 in aiding students as they pursue a bachelor’s degree. After graduation, college graduates put back $471,000 into the government budget once they become employed and begin paying taxes. As Trostel writes, this is “more than six times the gross government cost per college degree.”

The possibility of upward mobility, along with the aforementioned benefits of students attending college, would be an immense benefit to the Commonwealth and something I believe our legislators should seriously consider facilitating. How? It’s time to implement a severance tax to fund public higher education in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is “the only major gas-producing state in the country without a severance tax,” according to NPR. Gov. Tom Wolf has asked the Commonwealth to tax the Marcellus Shale industry 6.5 percent for the value of its revenue, a policy projected to generate $217.8 million dollars for the state. So far, however, the policy has not been implemented.

A severance tax on the Marcellus Shale industry is the most rational way to make public higher education affordable for all Pennsylvanians.

—John Danvers,
APSCUF intern