By Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
President of Misericordia University
Choosing a college is one of the bigger decisions you will make in life. The impact that decision has on you, your family, the community, and on society is immeasurable.
There is one area where we can measure the impact of higher education: The earnings potential of bachelor's degree holders is 40 percent higher than a typical high school graduate. Less tangible, but equally important, are the soft skills college graduates take with them after graduation. College graduates tend to develop lifelong learning skills and be more engaged in their communities.
Combined together, it is easy to see why college is an attractive destination. The outcomes are important, but sometimes they are unattainable to some due to financial limitations. When I meet a student with the drive and capacity to succeed, I want to find a way to make a college degree a possibility. I know the student will benefit, and our region will also enjoy the future contributions of successful graduates.
As a teenager, I faced the same dilemma of balancing the cost of higher education with the long-term benefits. I wanted to go to college, but as one of 13 children from a working-class family, I saw very little opportunity to find a way to pay for an undergraduate degree. Fortunately, I was able to string together summer jobs, college work, begging and borrowing from family and friends, and scholarships from generous philanthropists into a package that met most of my financial need.
I was also the recipient of federal financial aid, including a Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG). The SEOG, like the more well-known Pell Grant, is a federal program that supports students with a high level of financial need. The recent promise of bipartisan cooperation in our nation's capital has led to a slight increase in support for the Pell Grant, SEOG, Federal Work Study program, and other grants that are aimed at helping students attend and graduate from college.
That's good news to all of us who want a better future. Moreover, Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed state budget includes a proposal for Ready to Succeed Scholarships. These grants would provide funding to middle-class students at all Pennsylvania postsecondary institutions. The grant would be available to students attending community, private or public colleges and universities. The inclusion of community colleges in the program guarantees that local access to higher education will be improved. It also assures that students who want to study a trade can do that or they can select a program that leads to a transfer to a four-year institution.
Our recent expansion of transfer opportunities for students at Luzerne County Community College emphasizes our commitment to students who begin their academic careers at a community college. The new grant also supports students as they search for the "best fit" in an institution and educational program since it can be applied to either public or private colleges and universities. We all benefit from the broad array of higher education models that support students. This proposal retains and expands on the ability of students and their families to choose the best school for their plans and dreams.
The higher education budget proposal also continues full funding of grants to low-income students while increasing support for middle-income students and their families. The new grant has the potential to support about 80,000 students who were ineligible for grants during the 2013-14 academic year, but who want to attend a college in the Keystone State. The proposal is a sound investment in the future of Pennsylvania, as the majority of students who attend college in a state go on to live there, pay taxes, and contribute to the community through work and volunteerism.
We all have been waiting for the recovery from the Great Recession and for a return to cooperative government that supports our citizenry. It is a wonderful time to get excited about our possibilities as federal and state government executives and legislators recognize the importance of investing in our future through higher education.
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., the first four-year college in Luzerne County.