Experts wonder if proposed scholarship requirements are realistic for recent grads

Gov. Tom Wolf has said his proposed Nellie Bly Scholarship could rescue schools in the State System and build the state’s workforce, but some experts doubt it is realistic — or even fair to students.

For students to be eligible for a slice of the proposed $204 million scholarship fund to attend a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education school, they must commit to staying in the state for the same amount of years they received aid.

If a graduate leaves, his or her grant becomes a loan.

Natalie Momplaisir, the director of College Grad Career Coaching, a consulting organization that helps recent graduates with job placement, said she wonders if Pennsylvania’s economy is prepared to support a massive influx of graduates who would take advantage of the deal. It is sort of a “chicken or the egg” scenario, she said. The employers have to be ready for the graduates to stay.

Momplaisir said the scholarship would likely be more beneficial to certain fields of study that already have a stronghold in Pennsylvania. Nursing, business and education students could likely get the most out of the scholarship, she predicted.

A high school graduate entering college just isn’t equipped to make the commitment to stay in Pennsylvania, said Shari Payne, vice president of enrollment at Waynesburg University. A student could decide to change their field of study, their family could move out of state, or a number of other factors could alter a college student’s post-graduate plans.

“In four years, a lot can happen in the state economy and a lot can happen in the life of an 18-year-old,” Payne said. “What happens if a person goes to study engineering, and they find they need to go to Texas or Georgia or some other state?”

Payne also worries that the scholarship’s focus on schools in the state system could be problematic. Across the board, private colleges and universities in Pennsylvania have better student retention and four-year graduation rates than schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In 2018, graduation rates at private universities in Pennsylvania hit an average of about 55%, compared to an average of 37% at universities in the state system.

Momplaisir said her own daughter, who is in high school, wouldn’t want to make the commitment to stay in the state.

“When we were talking about this, her first reaction was ‘Heck no, I’m not staying here in Pennsylvania,’ ” Momplaisir said.

Momplaisir said, however, it is something she would have considered taking advantage of when she was in college.

Eric Graf, assistant principal at Woodland Hills High School, said he always asks students about their plans after high school when he meets with them. Graf said that with tuition costs skyrocketing, every option needs to be heavily weighed by students and their families.

“Having options is the most important thing,” he said. “And this will just give our young people one additional option in their lives. For that reason, I can get behind it.”

Graf said that for many of the proposed scholarship’s potential applicants, the ability to move out of the state after college would be a luxury anyway. The Nellie Bly scholarship is a practical, cost-saving measure, Graf said.

“It is a young age. It is a big commitment,” he said. “But for some students, it’s the right commitment.”

Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Published at Fri, 14 Feb 2020 17:22:14 +0000

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