Gov. Corbett to visit Westmoreland County

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Gov. Tom Corbett will use a stop today at Westmoreland County Community College to further detail his proposed $25 million scholarship initiative targeted to middle-class families whose earnings can render them ineligible for traditional state grants.

The Ready to Succeed program is among the initiatives the governor included in his proposed 2014-15 state budget, introduced to the Legislature in February.

Unlike need-based Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency grants, the proposed scholarships would be merit awards open to students from families with adjusted gross household incomes of up to $110,000.

Recipients must be state residents. They can attend any accredited post-secondary education institution in the commonwealth, including state-owned and state-related universities; community colleges; private, nonprofit campuses; and for-profit schools.

The maximum scholarship would be $2,000 yearly for full-time students and $1,000 for those taking classes part time. The intent is that no scholarship would enable a student to exceed the maximum PHEAA grant, which this year is $4,363, said Tim Eller, Pennsylvania Education Department spokesman.

"The key part of it is aimed at those students who traditionally are not eligible for state grants," he said.

The renewable awards would be open to sophomores, juniors and seniors who have and maintain a minimum 3.25 grade-point average. The household income requirements would be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index, Mr. Eller said.

The initiative is being touted as another proposal to curb the debt load facing students upon leaving college, and while financial aid initiatives in general are popular, opinions differ sharply as to the students most urgently in need of them.

Mr. Eller said the focus of the scholarships is on middle-income families rather than lower-income families because the latter already have greater eligibility for government aid.

Middle-income students can get government and private loans, he added, but as family incomes reach and exceed $80,000, they are more likely to have difficulty qualifying for PHEAA grants.

"We're estimating at this point that 80 percent of scholarship recipients would not have received or been eligible for state grants," Mr. Eller said.

Mr. Eller said the governor is concerned about the debt load of all students, regardless of their income backgrounds.

According to the Project on Student Debt, 7 out of 10 college seniors finishing last year had student loan debt that averaged $29,400 per borrower. Between 2008 and 2012, combined federal and private debt grew an average of 6 percent each year. Pennsylvania had the third-highest average debt total at $31,675.

In recent days, state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, and Marguerite Quinn, R-Bucks County, have introduced bills to advance the scholarship program through the Legislature, Mr. Eller said.

Today's 2 p.m. visit to the community college's Youngwood campus is part of two days of appearances by Mr. Corbett at events in the Pittsburgh area, a number pegged to education.

In addition to Ms. Ward, he is expected to be joined in Youngwood by Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State System of Higher Education; Daniel Obara, president of Westmoreland County Community College; Quintin Bullock, president of Community College of Allegheny County; Brother Norman Hipps, president of Saint Vincent College; other lawmakers; and students.

About 180,000 individuals received PHEAA grants of varying amounts for the 2013-14 academic year, including this summer, agency spokesman Keith New said Thursday. The average grant was $3,111.

Need is determined through a complex formula based on the federal expected family contribution, and award amounts can be influenced by factors including how many grant applicants are received that year and how many students in a given family are in college.

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG

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