FILE - PA Tom Wolf 2-12-2020

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks Feb. 12, 2020, during a news conference at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that when it comes to his proposed Nellie Bly Scholarship Program proposal, the hard part has already been figured out – finding a funding source.

So when questioned during a news conference about how many students in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education would be eligible and how eligibility would be determined, the governor said those were details that still need to be worked out.

“We don't have any eligibility requirements [yet],” Wolf said. “Part of the answer to your question is, we can advocate, but part of it is, ‘help us design the program to make this the right way.’ I see this as the start. … This is the start. Again, as I said, the hard part is finding lots of money. That's what I'm proposing here, and the general idea is to address the student debt issue. Specifically how we do that, I think there's some good details yet to come, including what we do with graduate school.”

Reiterating the argument from his budget address, Wolf said the purpose of the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program is to entice PASSHE students to stay in the state after they graduate. To that end, the program will work like a loan that is forgiven if the student stays in state for as many years as he or she receives the scholarship.

The scholarship is named after the famed journalist of the 19th and early 20th Century who attended what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but had to drop out and leave the state because of a family tragedy.

The $204 million in funds for the scholarship are to come from the Horse Racing Development Fund, which the governor said currently has about $250 million. He said even after diverting the funds, Pennsylvania would still be spending more to support horse racing than neighboring New Jersey.

The governor said that if the funds go strictly to tuition, the scholarship might be able to support as many as 26,000 students. If room and board are factored in, that number would drop to about 12,000 or 13,000. He said there currently are 96,000 students in the PASSHE system.

Wolf aimed to present the plan as good not only for the students who stand to benefit, but for the state economy as a whole.

“Right now, Pennsylvania, I think we're the second or third highest number of seats in higher education in the United States,” the governor said. “We have lots of students who come to Pennsylvania, really bright people, but too often they leave. After school, they go to somewhere else. They take what they learned here and they enrich the economies, the communities, the societies, of California, of Washington, Washington, D.C., of Massachusetts, of New York, of New Jersey. We want them to enrich this, this place, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

In order for the program to become a reality, it will need to survive budget negotiations with the Republican-controlled Legislature. The first phase of those negotiations will begin this month with a series of hearings in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.