Pennsylvania: State Senator's Program Attempts To Ease Student Debt

"A Pennsylvania lawmaker is asking colleagues to consider a program aimed at easing the debt load of some students in technical fields while keeping them in the state," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

"Pennsylvania's students are currently the third-most indebted in the country, according to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit that tracks student borrowing. Among 2012 graduates, 70 percent had taken out loans, owing an average of $31,675.

Many can't -- or don't -- pay. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 11.9 percent of Pennsylvania students default on federal student loan payments within three years.

Policymakers are looking for ways to ease the burden of rising tuition.

Gov. Tom Corbett, for example, included $25 million in grants to help middle-income post-secondary students in his proposed budget for next year.

Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, announced in a memo last week that he plans to introduce legislation under which a state program would pay the tuition at Pennsylvania colleges and universities for students in approved science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

Unlike traditional loans or scholarships, Mr. Teplitz's proposal would create a fund that pays students' tuition up front. In exchange, recipients -- 100 during the first year and 50 in subsequent years -- would pay 5 percent of their income back into the fund for 20 years after graduation. The plan would require students to sign an agreement to remain in Pennsylvania for five years after graduation to keep sought-after workers in the state, the senator said.

Mr. Teplitz's proposal includes a ballot referendum asking voters to borrow $50 million to get the program up and running -- a provision not likely to be popular when money is tight.

Last month, the state Independent Fiscal Office issued a report predicting a $1.3 billion shortfall in revenue over the next year."

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