By Mario Cosentino
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently announced his 2020-21 budget proposal which includes an increase to the state’s grant program for postsecondary education. Wolf’s legislation would change the program’s yearly allocation from $310.733 million to $339.733 million – a $29 million increase.
If this legislation were to be passed, students across the commonwealth would see an increase in need-based financial aid. Currently, the highest amount given to students by the program is $4,123. The maximum award under the new budget would be $4,700, because the state’s existing legislation prevents the program from going above that amount.
In a statement from PHEAA, Representative Mike Peifer, PHEAA Board Chairman said, “Governor Wolf’s proposed 9.33 percent increase for the 2020-21 PA State Grant Program is the second largest increase during the last 20 years. This additional funding will provide for a substantial increase in the grant award which should lessen the need for Pennsylvania students to borrow money to pay for college.”
According to Messiah College Director of Financial Aid Greg Gearhart, the program hasn’t given out the full amount since before the recession in 2008.
“Most states, because of the economy, cut their spending on higher education,” Gearhart said. “One of the things that happened here in Pennsylvania was that the state grant amount was dropped and over the intervening year, we never got back to that maximum $4,700 level.”
Wolf’s budget would benefit many students through the state grant program, but it is important to note that not all of the grant money comes from the state budget. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, better known as PHEAA, also contributes to the grant through servicing work.
“They have contracts with the federal government and they make money that way and they use that to support the Pennsylvania state grant program,” Gearhart said.
Therefore, the grant depends on the state budget and on PHEAA being able to contribute to the total amount as well.
In order to determine the amount given to students, PHEAA has created a formula that is based on the cost of attendance at your institution and your expected family contribution from FAFSA.
“Whatever they determine as the final formula, everybody will be treated the same in that determination that the state grant should be,” Geahart said.
What this means for Messiah students is that the program is not changing, but in the event that Governor Wolf’s budget is passed, the state grant program would increase it’s maximum grant back to $4,700.
“Our students who are currently enrolled here who have a lower amount of PHEAA grant, they would benefit in the upcoming year by receiving a high amount of the state grant,” Gearhart said.
He explains that around 75 percent of students on campus receive some kind of need based aid, but also that not all need based programs are from PHEAA. Like many other schools, Messiah offers grants and work study opportunities that are independent of the state grant program.
Nevertheless, Pennsylvania’s state grant program is one of the most efficient in the country. According to a statement by PHEAA, “The PA state grant program is the fourth largest number of grant recipients in the nation and is among the most efficient since PHEAA pays all administrative costs at no expenses to taxpayers.”
Gearhart also commended PHEAA and the state grant program.
“It is important to know that the Pennsylvania state grant is one of the best state grant programs in the country in terms of both how many people get it and how much money that the students get,” Gearhart said.
However, not every student at Messiah can take advantage of the grants. Among these are out-of-state and international students.
“The states don’t work well together, they don’t let a lot of money transfer back and forth in between states,” Gearhart said.
As a whole, local students at Messiah will benefit from the budget increase and will be looking forward as lawmakers in Harrisburg decide whether to pass the budget or not.