Briggs and Roebuck introduce bill to better fund colleges, make higher education more affordable statewide

HARRISBURG, March 28 – As hundreds of college students rallied at the state Capitol for affordable higher education this week, state Reps. Tim Briggs and James R. Roebuck Jr. joined in their call for action.

Briggs, D-Montgomery, and Roebuck, D-Phila., recently introduced legislation (H.B. 993) that would make Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities more affordable and accessible. Their bill would create a higher education funding commission that would look at ways to improve access to higher education and job training in the state, including the charge to develop a higher education funding formula.

“Pennsylvania ranks 48th, or third worst, in America at funding colleges, technical schools and universities,” said Roebuck, who serves as Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee. “By underfunding our institutions, we are creating a crisis for our graduates. That needs to change, because everyone benefits from the skills and education gained by students at our public institutions of higher education. To secure these benefits, we must invest substantial public resources to aid these institutions and their students in this important work.”

The lawmakers said their legislation would ensure that Pennsylvania’s institutions receive appropriate and adequate funding, in turn working to combat Pennsylvania’s student debt crisis. They said a higher education funding formula would help determine the best distribution of state dollars to state-supported universities and colleges.

“Pennsylvania has a diverse array of public institutions of higher education with a variety of missions and strengths,” Briggs said. “The future of the commonwealth depends in part on their ability to continue to fulfill their missions. Making them affordable enough to attend is a key component.

“We must work to reverse the unenviable distinction of being the sixth-highest state in student loan debt with 1.7 million borrowers owing $53.7 million,” he said.

Briggs added that the commission would base its recommendations off of findings through research methods such as consulting with experts, receiving input from interested parties, holding statewide hearings and studying other states’ funding formulas. The commission would then compile a report, including its findings and recommendations, that would only go into effect if approved by the General Assembly. 

“This information will allow us as lawmakers to make more informed decisions that will ensure the long-term viability of this important part of our state's economic and educational strength,” Roebuck said.

House Bill 993 has been referred to the House Education Committee for review.