The Keystone State is called such because it is geographically wedged in the arch of the original thirteen colonies of the nation, has not only a diverse terrain of farmland, national parks, mountains, and forests, plus suburban and urban hotbeds of the industry but also a diverse population, making Pennsylvania a quintessential melting pot of Americans. The state of Pennsylvania’s rich history includes such monuments as Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed and the Liberty Bell. Considering such, it is no surprise that the state of Pennsylvania is oftentimes considered a true representation of the American people, historically and today.
Pennsylvania: Diversity and Responsibility in Higher Education
Historically, Pennsylvania boasts a liberal approach to religious freedom and of all the original colonies, only Rhode Island had the freedom of religion as secure as Pennsylvania. In 1733 Voltaire wrote, referring to William Penn, the state’s founder and namesake, “The new sovereign also enacted several wise and wholesome laws for his colony, which have remained invariably the same to this day. The chief is, to ill-treat no person on account of religion[.]” This history has led to an extensively diverse religious state today, and religiously affiliated residents of Pennsylvania include Protestants, Catholics, followers of Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Of all the religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the state, most are of Catholic affiliation.
The state is also a diverse state culturally and ethnically with a large portion of foreign-born residents, about 36%, being of Asian descent, another 35% of European, and lastly a Latin American population of about 30%. Besides Florida, Pennsylvania also has the largest and fastest-growing Puerto Rican population in the continental United States. Colleges, therefore, have a commitment to serve these diverse populations through opportunities such as the Commitment to Undocumented Students and DACA Students as seen at Swarthmore College. The college encourages all students, regardless of citizenship, to apply, and even offers a blind admissions process so that DACA students may feel confident in their chances for admission.
Higher Education in Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania has two state-funded university systems: The Commonwealth System of Higher Education, which includes the state’s land grant institution, Pennsylvania State University, and three historically private universities; and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. PASSHE is the largest provider of education in the state and the tenth-largest university system in the nation. Within PASSHE are 14 state-owned schools, all of which are NCAA Division II members.
The entire Pennsylvania higher education system is comprised of 260 public and private colleges and universities from the undergraduate to graduate levels. A number of prestigious, world-renowned public and private universities dot the state including the University of Pennsylvania, one of eight Ivy League schools in the nation, and Carnegie Mellon University.
Pennsylvania’s Online Degree Programs
Colleges and universities across Pennsylvania have adapted to the high demand for online learning and many of the institutions offer comprehensive online programs in which degrees can be earned fully or partially online. Penn State’s online platform called the Penn State World Campus, is the second-largest campus in the Pennsylvania State University system, with 18,000 students, and offers more than 125 degree and certificate programs online.
Paying for College in Pennsylvania
While tuition costs in Pennsylvania may be high, the state doles out an impressive amount of financial aid annually. In 2016 the average cost for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public institution averaged about $13,000 per year. However, that same year the state awarded a little over $450 million dollars in need-based funds and $1.8 million in non-need grants. Grants are awarded at the second highest percentage in the nation, with 27% of the states total fiscal support for education going to in-state grant funds.
The state’s primary student aid agency, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA, is a great resource for students seeking financial aid from public or private entities. The agency handles all loan servicing and financial assistance programs for residents and works with the American Education Services and FedLoan Servicing to aid students in finding financial support for college.