EAST STROUDSBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf wants to harness the power of horse racing to assist thousands of students in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
During his visit Wednesday to East Stroudsburg University, students urged Wolf, a Democrat, to allow his proposed Nellie Bly Scholarship Program to cover room, board, fees and books in addition to tuition.
Doing homework even costs money, students explained.
"If we don’t have the money for our access codes, then we’re falling behind," said Diamond Coleman, referring to the codes that grant access to online homework assignments.
"That sounds like a double jeopardy," Wolf said.
Unlike physical textbooks that can be shared or resold when the semester ends, students can’t share the codes or use them multiple times.
Wolf is visiting all 14 PASSHE universities to get input on his plan to use $204 million from the Race Horse Development Fund to provide need-based scholarships.
Leila Bouchekouk told Wolf that in her friend group, it’s common to have multiple jobs on top of the internships and extracurricular activities necessary to "remain competitive."
Some ESU students even live in their cars, she said.
The school has a food bank, ESU President Marcia Welsh said.
Student Nani Dickerson wanted to know what the academic requirements to maintain the scholarship would be. She said that while working multiple jobs hasn’t harmed her GPA, it can affect student achievement.
"First of all, this should reduce the pressure on you to take other jobs," Wolf said. "Second, how do you think it should be done?"
Dickerson suggested "some type of minimum GPA," leading Wolf to ask, "What if we just said, as long as you’re a student in good standing?"
"I think that should be fine," she said.
Though the details of the proposed scholarship aren’t final, Wolf does know that he wants its recipients to live in Pennsylvania for as many years post-graduation as they received scholarship — or pay it back.
The scholarship should be seen as an investment in the future, Wolf said.
The Race Horse Development Fund comes from slot machine revenue, and is used to pay for winners’ purses and breeder incentives.
In a statement issued after Wolf’s visit, the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition warned that taking money from the fund would damage the breeding and racing industry.
The loss of funds "would be financially devastating," said Robert Baggitt, who owns a horse farm in Bangor.
The industry group also challenged the legality of using the money for scholarships, citing legislation that says "the Commonwealth is not rightfully entitled" to the funds.