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Trib editorial: Proposal no answer for tuition hikes

| Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

Perhaps skipped lessons about the perils of throwing other people's money around explain a “free tuition” proposal from left-leaning Pennsylvania think tanks.

A new Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center report, co-authored by the Keystone Research Center's executive director, proposes “The Pennsylvania Promise.” For “recent” high-school graduates, it would cover tuition and fees for two years at community colleges, and if their families make $110,000 per year or less, for four years at Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities. Also proposed are grants for students at state-related universities including Pitt and Penn State, and more grants for adults seeking skills, credentials and college credits. The cost, to come from tax hikes? “About a billion per year,” which the PBPC terms “a modest and smart investment” — but which taxpayers should call “jaw-dropping.”

State finances are precarious. More public higher-education subsidies mean more cover for more tuition hikes exceeding inflation, perpetuating the spiral that “free tuition” aims to counter. Private schools, nonprofit and for-profit, would be excluded — which means a potential windfall for PASSHE schools. But amid declining enrollment, they're undergoing a long, painful right-sizing process, making this proposal premature at the very least.

The recipe for affordable higher education isn't more money from taxpayers' already plundered pockets. It's getting more and better results from existing higher-ed dollars.

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