Mounting student loan debt has become a national crisis, and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter. Our college graduates have the second highest student debt load in the nation, a figure that continues to climb.


Our communities are already seeing the economic impact of this debt.


Pennsylvanians hold a collective $68 billion in debt. Imagine how much stronger our economy could be if these Pennsylvanians were spending even a fraction of this money in their local communities instead of loan repayments.


Last year, students graduating from one of our 14 high-quality, lower-costing Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools found themselves crushed by an average of more than $34,000 in debt.


POCONO RECORD EDITORIAL: Pennsylvania shouldn’t sleep on student loan debt reform.


These students will be making loan payments of about $400 each month for the next decade. That’s money that they could have been used to put a down payment on a home, buy a car, or spend into the local economy. Instead, it’s going to loan payments.


Every parent’s goal is to create a better life for their children. That’s why we spend years taking our children to piano lessons, attending parent-teacher conferences and coaching youth sports teams. We want our children to grow into self-sufficient and successful adults who can own homes. We want them to come to us and share their stories of traveling, working a job they love and gaining new skills through hobbies. And, we don’t want them to constantly worry about their finances. If we burden our children under loan debt, all these goals become much more difficult.


Pennsylvania’s students are hardworking. And, they don’t just work hard in the classroom. Many have one or more jobs to try to keep up with expenses. They’re juggling these jobs with a full class load, as well as activities like internships and clubs. And they’re still graduating under a pile of debt.


Every Pennsylvanian deserves an opportunity to succeed. That includes our PASSHE students.


My Nellie Bly Scholarship Program would combat economic hardships caused by student debt – and give our hardworking students the ability to start out on the right track. The funding would go directly to the students, helping to defray the cost of attending a PASSHE school.


The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program has the potential to lift financial stress from more than 25,000 PASSHE students annually, allowing them to focus on their studies instead of scraping together tuition payments. This accounts for more than a quarter of the students enrolled in all 14 PASSHE schools right now.


This program will be paid for in its entirety by redirecting funding from the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development Fund. It is far more beneficial to our commonwealth to assist at least 25,000 young Pennsylvanians and their families than to continue to prop up horse racing, an industry that has benefited from nearly $3 billion in state subsidies.


Nellie Bly Scholarship recipients will be required to reside in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years that they received the grant. This will help our commonwealth retain more young, talented, educated Pennsylvanians. It will also help thousands of young people to build a life in Pennsylvania and ensure their salaries are reinvested into our communities.


PASSHE schools already make an enormous economic impact on our commonwealth – one that totals $6.7 billion, according to a 2015 study. That doesn’t include the contributions made by the more than half-million PASSHE alumni who live and work in every Pennsylvania county.


The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program is good for our communities, it’s good for our PASSHE schools, and it’s good for young Pennsylvanians.


Please join me in letting the legislature know that Pennsylvania needs the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program.


Tom Wolf is the Governor of Pennsylvania.