McClinton: Getting a College Degree Shouldn’t Break the Bank

Earning a college degree can be a milestone in life.

A degree can increase lifetime earnings, boost civic participation and, some studies show, even lead to better health and wellbeing outcomes.

But the cost to go to college has skyrocketed – up 169% in the past four decades according to a report from Georgetown University. When the cost to go to college and earn a degree is so expensive, it makes it out-of-reach for too many people in our community.

Further, because of predatory practices used by some for-profit institutions, some students leave school without completing their degree, but are still saddled by exorbitant college debt.

There is help. Even if you have already graduated.  

In August, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced a student loan debt plan to provide student debt relief to working- and middle-class families. The Biden-Harris plan will provide debt relief for up to 43 million Americans by cancelling $20,000 in debt to Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 to non-Pell Grant recipients. To qualify, you must earn less than $125,000 per year or less than $250,000 as a household. This program is targeted to provide relief to the people who need it most.

While we wait for more details, people with college loan debt can sign up to receive a notification when information is available at

For people thinking about pursuing college but don’t know if they can afford it, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency may be able to help. PHEAA administers the PA State Grant, which awards up to $5,750 a year based on need. Nearly 108,000 Pennsylvania students will use the PA State Grant to help pay for college this year.

The PA State Grant helps eligible Pennsylvanians pay some of the costs at the undergraduate level, and in most cases can be awarded in consecutive years.

Finally, if you are a parent or caregiver and want to start putting money aside for your child’s future educational expenses like college, technical school or a qualified apprenticeship program, the PA 529 program, may be right for you.

The PA 529 College and Career Savings Program is administered by the state treasurer and has been helping Pennsylvania families save for education expenses for more than 30 years. You can start a PA 529 account no matter your child’s age, and there is no minimum deposit required.  There may even be tax benefits for families with an account.

When people are weighed down by the burden of college debt, they can’t afford to take other steps in life, like buying a home, launching a business, or saving for an emergency.

If we want to shrink racial and gender wealth gaps and help more Pennsylvanians get ahead, we need to improve access to education - whether college, industry-based training, or other certification opportunities. Our entire community benefits when our neighbors earn more, are healthier and more active in the community; education can help get us there.