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Scholarship proposal is better if not limited to state-owned schools

If everyone agrees there is a problem, why hasn’t it been fixed yet?

If there was a good answer to that question, Pennsylvania wouldn’t be in the situation in which it now finds itself — with a dwindling number of students attending college, graduating from it and then choosing to live and work in Pennsylvania with their degree.

Part of the problem has been self-inflicted — Pennsylvania has for years ranked at or near the bottom in not only state aid for students, but size of student debt and general affordability of the commonwealth’s colleges and universities.

But part of the problem is outside of the state’s control as fewer kids are graduating from high school and — with the daily retirement of more and more baby boomers — the size of the workforce is shrinking as well, which means fewer tax dollars being collected.

That has made the Keystone State desperate for college graduates to fill the jobs of the present and future, and may have finally motivated the governor and legislature to get serious about tackling an issue that may soon become a full-blown crisis if left on its current path.

Gov. Tom Wolf last week as part of his budget address proposed a new scholarship program — with an estimated price tag (take that however you will) of $200 million — aimed at helping more otherwise-qualified students from low- and middle-income families afford college.

Wolf’s proposal, however, is limited to those who choose to attend one of the 14 state-run universities (Bloomsburg, California (Pa.), Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana (Pa.), Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester).

We find wanting to help kids attend school without incurring a mountain of debt to be admirable. But we agree with people like state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, who support a scholarship program, but want it open to any community or four-year college or university in Pennsylvania.

“I’m about competition,” Saylor told the Associated Press, “and competition makes government programs better.”

Amen.

If students are going to be given scholarships, why not allow them to choose the school that best fits their desired educational path? Not only will that make things better for students in the program, that will incentivize schools to streamline and improve the quality of their curriculum to attract more students. That benefits all students, even those not eligible for this scholarship money.

Who would oppose this? Coming up hard on the outside is the special interest group whose ride on the government gravy train would come to an end — the horse-racing industry. Subsidies currently in place for horse racing would be diverted to this scholarship program.

And while we aren’t here to deride that sport, we must ask a very simple question. Would you rather your tax money be spent on horse racing or on giving Pennsylvania a better, more educated workforce in the future?

We think we know which side most will choose.

We are encouraged by the seemingly-bipartisan support for this proposal and hope an agreement can be found soon.

Pennsylvania’s status as an economic leader of the future very much depends upon it.

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