News & Politics

Five for Friday: Shapiro’s higher education plan

Shapiro’s blueprint for higher education seeks to impact affordability and accessibility

Gov. Josh Shapiro at a Jan. 16 press conference in Northampton County on property tax rebates.

Gov. Josh Shapiro at a Jan. 16 press conference in Northampton County on property tax rebates. Commonwealth Media Services

Gov. Josh Shapiro kicked off the last day of the school week by unveiling his plan for how the commonwealth can change its approach to higher education. 

Much like a college student getting to their dorm for the first time, there’s a lot to unpack in Shapiro’s three-part education blueprint, with even more details to be outlined in his Feb. 6 budget address. In the meantime, City & State has your Five for Friday, elucidating some of the finer points of Shapiro’s blueprint. 

Financial hardship

The plan – and the expected overhaul of Pennsylvania’s higher education system – comes at a time when universities throughout the commonwealth are grappling with spending issues amid decreased enrollment and increased tuition rates. Spotlight PA reported that Penn State University – a state-related school – is slated to slash $94 million from its budget starting in July 2025 in an attempt to achieve long-term stability. 

Shapiro, who pointed out that Pennsylvania ranks 49th in state support of higher education, is calling for a significant increase in funding for the state system, as well as the implementation of a performance-based funding formula to create an accountability measure for the institutions. 

New governance system 

Shapiro’s higher education blueprint calls for building a new system that couples the 10 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education with the state’s 15 community colleges. The Shapiro administration said that the new system will improve access to degrees and credentials, and enhance communication between PASSHE institutions and community colleges. Shapiro will also pitch a “significant investment” in PASSHE universities and community colleges in his Feb. 6 budget address, though no numbers were outlined in the plan.

Tuition caps and grants

Under the new higher education system outlined in Shapiro’s blueprint, which includes PASSHE universities and community colleges, individuals who earn up to the state’s median income – which is $73,170, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – will have tuition and fees capped at $1,000 per semester. The plan would also increase PHEAA grants by $1,000. 

New funding formula

The funding formula Shapiro pitched isn’t all that new. The creation of a performance-based funding formula, which Shapiro proposed to reward public and state-related colleges and universities for achieving outcomes that benefit the commonwealth and its economy, has been discussed in Harrisburg before. More specifically, Shapiro’s plan mentions factors like enrollment increases, the number of first-generation college students, and recruitment of students in degrees where worker shortages exist. But buy-in from the divided General Assembly is needed for a new formula to be implemented. 

Bipartisan support

Shapiro’s plan has garnered positive reactions from those in higher education – and from Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg. 

In a joint statement, House Democratic leaders said that they’re “excited to work with Governor Shapiro on this bold new proposal to do even more for students, colleges and our communities – especially capping tuition costs for working families and their students.”

“We look forward to examining the proposal further and finding ways to cut costs for working families across the commonwealth to help people get the education they need for the careers they deserve here in Pennsylvania,” Democratic leaders continued. 

Republican leadership in the House expressed support for performance-based budgeting, noting a similar GOP-led proposal introduced during last year’s legislative session. 

“We are glad to see the Shapiro administration join with House Republicans in prioritizing students and families while balancing the financial needs of the Commonwealth as part of this plan,” Jason Gottesman, House Republican Caucus spokesperson, said in a statement. “While the administration’s announced plan is currently light on details, we will work with education stakeholders, the administration, and Pennsylvania families to continue moving away from the endless funding of systems in Pennsylvania so we can move toward a student-first, family-focused, and taxpayer-accountable system of higher education.”

Not everyone is entirely on board, however. House Appropriations Committee Chair Seth Grove said in a statement that Shapiro’s plan lacks details and financing. 

“The bottom line is this plan creates more bureaucracy, necessitates more spending, and creates more questions than answers,” Grove said.