Expand Nellie Bly Eligibility to Keep Higher Education Affordable for All Pennsylvania Students

During this year’s budget negotiations, Pennsylvania policymakers are considering a $204 million need-based scholarship program – with eligibility that limits participation to students enrolled in the state’s university system. While the aim of the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program is noble, it excludes many students who need support in achieving their higher education goals.

“I didn’t choose community college because I failed in high school or didn’t do well on my SATs. I chose to attend Delaware County Community College (DCCC) because it met my needs – particularly in affordability and program flexibility – better than any other postsecondary institution in Pennsylvania,” said Victoria Wilson, who graduated from DCCC in May 2021 and plans to transfer to West Chester University this fall. “Students should not be punished with fewer scholarship options because they attend community college.”

Victoria shared that, as a first-generation college student, she cannot rely on her parents for financial support or advice on college – and she has that in common with many community college students in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania community colleges serve more low-income and first-time college students than any other sector of higher education. Nearly half of community college students in the Commonwealth are considered very low-income, coming from families earning less than $30,000 annually.

“These students also deserve access to the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program and should not be denied assistance simply because they choose to attend a community college,” said Elizabeth A. Bolden, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “Students should not be forced to leave their home and move away to attend a state university in order to be eligible for a scholarship.”

The vast majority of community college students stay in their own communities after graduating, putting down roots and contributing to a vibrant economy.

Due to chronic disinvestment in education in the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania currently ranks 48th in the nation in higher education affordability. All Pennsylvania postsecondary students need relief – not just those enrolled in the state’s university system. If the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program is funded for the fiscal year 2021-22 budget, it should not exclude Pennsylvania’s community college students.