February 26, 2013 | Vol. 73 No. 31

Fontana re-elected vice-chair of PHEAA board

State Sen. Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny) was unanimously re-elected to serve as the vice chairman of the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

“I am gratified by the unanimous vote and look forward to continuing my efforts to make a college education more affordable and accessible,” Sen. Fontana said. “In these challenging economic times, it is more important than ever to provide a viable grant and loan program for our aspiring students.”

Created in 1963 by the state legislature, PHEAA has evolved into one of the nation’s leading student aid organizations. PHEAA is a national provider of student financial aid services, serving millions of students and thousands of schools through its loan guaranty, loan servicing, financial aid processing, outreach and other student aid programs.

Pointing to a Gates Foundation study showing 69 percent of students who dropped out of college had no scholarship or loans, Sen. Fontana said “it’s clear that many students would have no realistic chance to attend college without financial support.”

The senator has sought to strengthen state budget support for the agency over the years. In 2011, when the governor recommended cutting $675 million in state support for higher education – including $7 million in student grants, Mr. Fontana and his senate colleagues fought the cuts and were able to limit the state’s cuts to $245 million. That same year, he and his fellow PHEAA board members authorized a $50 million public service contribution by PHEAA to the commonwealth to supplement the state grant program.

 Last year, Governor Tom Corbett proposed another round of cuts for higher education --including 20 percent for state system schools and 30 percent for schools such as Pitt. Again, Mr. Fontana spearheaded efforts to use budget surplus monies to restore all of the funding.

In the 2012-13 budget, state support for school grants was cut by $36 million. To offset that, Sen. Fontana and his fellow PHEAA board members were able to shift $75 million in agency earnings to bolster the grant program.

Elected to the state Senate in 2005, Mr. Fontana was first appointed to the PHEAA Board in 2008, and first elected to serve as its vice chairman in 2011. He will again be teaming up with state Rep. William F. Adolph (R-Delaware), who was re-elected to serve as the agency’s chairman.

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