Middle-income college students in their sophomore year who maintain a high grade point average will be eligible for a new state grant this year, but limited funds mean not all students will receive the aid.
The Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program was part of Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal in February to help more college students in Pennsylvania manage the cost of education after high school.
Corbett proposed the program begin with $25 million in state funding this year, but that was cut to $5 million in the final 2014-15 budget as a result of falling revenue.
The grant was the topic of a discussion hosted by state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, at York College on Tuesday to hear more about the program's implementation and to talk with local high school and college officials involved in helping students with financial aid.
"The Ready to Succeed program is something that's long overdue," said Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County, majority chair of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA.
GPA and income: The Legislature needed to do something to help students whose parents fall into a middle-income bracket, Adolph said.
This year, college students are eligible for the new state grants of up to $2,000 after they have completed 24 credits, likely by the beginning of their sophomore year. But they must have a minimum 3.25 GPA, a stipulation Adolph called a "carrot" to encourage students to perform well in school. A student's family income must also be below $110,000.
Students will be able to apply for the grant through their college directly. If they are selected, the grant will be credited to their college bill, said Nathan Hench, vice president of public affairs for PHEAA.
"We wanted to keep it as simple as possible for the students," Hench said.
Colleges submit applications to be part of the program. That process has already started, and the deadline is Sept. 15, Hench said. So far, about 50 colleges have applied to participate, Hench said.
FAFSA matters: Because the $5 million isn't enough to offer grant aid to every eligible student, the grants will be distributed first-come, first-served based on when students filed their Free Application For Student Aid forms this year, Hench said, admitting the system might seem "unfair" to students who didn't know their filing date could affect their grant award. That caveat came after the cut in proposed funding, Hench said.
If students aren't receiving any state grant money and are eligible for the grant, they can receive up to $2,000, the top amount given in PHEAA grants for full-time students. Otherwise, they can receive the amount that takes them to that $2,000 cap.
Though the grants aren't a guarantee, they have the potential to help students offset other loan debt, or to work fewer hours during the semester, said Janine Becker, dean of enrollment management at York College.
Growth: And it can help with tuition increases after a freshman's financial aid package is already set, said Don Francis, president of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Pennsylvania.
"We do want to grow the program," Francis said. "But at least it's there."
The new grant program "hits right at home" for families in the York area, Grove said, and he expects to see the need for growth in the program in future years.
Grove said data collected by PHEAA this year about how many students would be eligible, but didn't receive aid will be part of next year's budget discussions.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.