This week’s proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf to offer scholarships to eligible Pennsylvania students who attend one of 14 state universities full-time and then stay in Pennsylvania after graduation to work deserves a serious look in Harrisburg.

The idea has merit for three very significant reasons: It could reduce the “brain drain” of Pennsylvania students leaving the commonwealth after graduation for what they deem as greener pastures; it could give the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and its schools a much-needed boost; and it could help reduce the overwhelming mountain of student debt many face.

Gov. Wolf wants to offer scholarships to undergraduate students at PSSHE universities who have a household income of less than $104,800. As part of the agreement, the student would agree to stay in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years for which they receive the funding; otherwise it would be a low-interest loan.

According to state officials, the program would also create an Emergency Grant Fund at PSSHE to meet any “emergency expenses the scholarship recipients might have, including books, paying final account balances, or other nominal costs that often prohibit students from registering for classes or obtaining transcripts.”

The Wolf administration says the program could benefit 44,000 students in Pennsylvania.

“Our country has a student loan debt crisis and it’s a burden that lasts for years and holds young people back from starting a family, buying a home and saving for retirement,” said Gov. Wolf. The scholarship could “help college students build lives in their communities rather than struggling to pay student loan bills every month.”

The funding would come from repurposing $199 million in slot machine revenue currently directed to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund, which seems like a more than fair and reasonable adjustment.

Students all across the state flock to these universities, but numbers are down. According to PSSHE data, 93,708 students were enrolled at one of the schools last fall, down 2 percent from a year ago. Less than half of the schools saw enrollment increase in 2020 and only one — Cheyney — grew by more than 1 percent. In 2019-20, 1,630 Valley high school graduates attended one of the schools.

We understand college isn’t for everyone. For many it can be, but cost can be a significant hurdle.

This program could eliminate some of those barriers. Pennsylvanians should bet on its students ahead of the state’s horse racing industry.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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