Pa. lawmakers above average in education

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HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania's state lawmakers rank just above the national average when it comes to their higher education credentials, with most of their degrees coming from commonwealth institutions.

That's according to an analysis released Sunday by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The publication reviewed post-secondary education data for the nation's more than 7,000 state legislators, and found 75 percent of them have at least a bachelor's degree.

In Pennsylvania, about 76 percent of the General Assembly's 253 members have either a bachelor's degree or a degree beyond that four-year college diploma. About 13 percent have some post-secondary background and about 7 percent never attended a college.

Those figures come as lawmakers are negotiating how much higher-education assistance to include in next year's state budget. Colleges and universities would receive significant cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed spending plan, but lawmakers have pledged to boost that funding.

Complete data wasn't available for all state lawmakers, but researchers said that what they did compile shows a more highly credentialed set of politicians than they expected.

"Many are much more educated than the state populations they represent," said Jeff Selingo, editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Among Pennsylvania's lawmakers, 38 percent say their highest level of education is graduating from a four-year institution, which is the case for 16 percent of their constituents. Another 38 percent have a degree beyond a bachelor's, compared to one in every 10 Pennsylvanians.

Those politicians also are more likely to have attended an in-state college or university, with 65 percent holding a degree from a Pennsylvania school.

Nationally, slightly more than half of lawmakers attended a college or university in their state.

Pennsylvania State University has the most alumni -- 28 -- in the state Legislature. The University of Pittsburgh ranks second with 18, followed by Temple University with 16, Villanova with 15, and Duquesne University with 13.

Two other Western Pennsylvania schools round out the top 10, with 11 lawmakers holding degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and six alums of the Community College of Allegheny County.

Those figures are no surprise to Franklin and Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna, who noted that Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of colleges and universities in the country and more than 100 private institutions.

"I think you can understand budgets and understand legislation without having an advanced degree, but it can be a great strength to have diversity in subject fields," Mr. Madonna said.

It also can give schools seeking funding and other support a sympathetic ear, he said. The three schools with the most legislative alumni -- Penn State, Pitt and Temple -- are also the biggest of the four state-related schools, which last year received more than $650 million from state coffers.

The highest-ranking lawmaker in each chamber, House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, are both Penn State alums, as is Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, who also represents State College.

Other legislative leaders hold credentials from various schools: House Majority Leader Mike Turzai and Rep. Joe Markosek, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations panel, both hold undergraduate degrees from the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, also has a law degree from Duke University.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody holds out-of-state degrees from Columbia University and the Indiana University School of Law.

All of the diplomas that Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, earned were from southwestern Pennsylvania schools -- the Community College of Allegheny County, IUP and Duquesne.


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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