HARRISBURG, June 15, 2021 – A diverse group of education advocates joined state Sen. Wayne Fontana today to urge passage of Fontana’s legislation to create the “Nellie Bly Scholarship Program” aimed at easing financial burdens to keep Pennsylvania students in Pennsylvania.

“The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program is a game changer,” Fontana said. “Scholarships that fill that gap of tuition and fees not covered by Pell and state grants can mean the difference for a student who wants to learn in Pennsylvania.”

Fontana is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 377, which creates the tuition aid program named for the famous pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, a groundbreaking investigative journalist who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh and traveled the world.

The program will provide a scholarship to full-time undergraduate students with a household income of under $104,800. Additionally, for the state’s most economically disadvantaged students, the scholarship will cover the tuition and fees gap not covered by a student’s Pell and state grants.

Eligible students will be able to receive a full scholarship for up to eight full-time semesters if they make a commitment to stay and work in the commonwealth for the same number of years they participate in the program. Priority will be given to students pursuing careers in education and health care.

Fontana said improved state funding for students in state universities could help stave off a widely criticized Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education plan to realign schools in a cost-saving move.

“This is a critical time and the decisions we make now could affect students for generations to come,” he said. “It’s time to push Pennsylvania out of the bottom tier of states in the support of higher education.”

Funded at almost $200 million, the program would serve nearly 44,000 students. With the state projecting a $3 billion surplus and sitting on $7 billion in federal stimulus money, advocates said the time is right to move forward.

“The return to us on that investment in our students can mean the difference for a business or start-up looking for a state with an educated work force,” Fontana said. “It’s time to invest in our future. It’s time to invest in our state. It’s time to invest in our students.”

Joining Fontana at the news conference in the state Capitol Media Center were state Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Delaware County, along with:

  • Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA
  • Dr. Jamie Martin, President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties
  • Adam Oldham, Southcentral Regional Representative , PA School Counselor Association
  • Melissa Stough, Senior, English Major from Kutztown University 
  • Pennsylvania Department of Education