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Pa. Lawmakers Unlikely To Follow NY In Offering Tuition-Free College

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pennsylvanians may have another reason to move to New York.

The state has just approved free tuition to attend the New York State University system or community colleges for families with total income of $100,000 or less.

"To me, it seems to be a smart decision about how you use post-secondary education to support economic development and workforce development and to attract or to keep young people in your state," Ron Cowell told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

But Cowell, who chaired Pennsylvania's state House Education Committee and now leads an education think-tank, says don't look for this state to follow New York.

"Here in Pennsylvania, institutionally, state government has been pretty cheap about its support for post-secondary education," he said.

That's putting it nicely.

Pennsylvania ranks 48th in cuts to higher education between 2009 and 2014.

Only Louisiana and Alabama are worse.

"So we rank near the bottom in terms of state support and related to that is a failure, again institutionally, here in Pennsylvania for state government to think strategically," says Cowell.

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That means an inability of lawmakers to understand that low or zero tuition at the 14 state-owned universities and community colleges would keep young people here and expand a stronger tax-paying workforce.

But because lawmakers are afraid to tax anybody or anything, says Cowell, higher education has suffered.

"As a result, we have some of the highest tuition in the country in terms of our public institutions, and, not surprising, we have some of the greatest student indebtedness in the country," Cowell said.

And that won't change until the citizens change the views of their lawmakers.

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