Online higher education takes center stage at House Dem Policy hearing

Lawmakers discuss affordability and accessibility

HARRISBURG, Oct. 26 – The House Democratic Policy Committee convened a hearing Wednesday morning in Harrisburg to discuss the affordability and accessibility of online higher education options across Pennsylvania.

“We need to provide students seeking to advance their education with every opportunity possible to do so. That includes online education, because as we heard from testifiers today, it allows students to complete degrees on their own time,” said Bizzarro. “Education is the lifeblood of our economy, and we should take advantage of every chance to support it.”

The hearing, hosted by Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Philadelphia), featured testimony from Western Governors University and Peirce College, two non-profit higher education entities that focus on providing online education opportunities for students.

“Today’s hearing helped foster a great conversation about what can be done to better connect students anywhere with the skills they need to succeed,” said Isaacson. “It starts with dedicating the necessary funding and resources toward higher education, and it’s something I’ll continue to fight for in Harrisburg.”

Western Governors University is a fully online school that was founded 25 years ago by 19 bipartisan governors. According to Rebecca Watts, Vice President of WGU, there are more than 2,500 current Pennsylvania students, and more than 5,000 alumni from the commonwealth. Watts testified that WGU has a year-round term and keeps a tuition level below the national average. She said this flat-rate tuition schedule allows students to take as many classes as they can and work at a pace that’s best for them. Watts added that Pennsylvania would have great benefits if it became a state affiliate of WGU, which would need to happen through legislation.

“Being a state affiliate of WGU means a commitment from the university to reach out to and collaborate with universities and employers in that state. In other states, it can be more targeted toward active service members and veterans to benefit their higher education needs. It can vary depending on what the state wants to get out of its relationship with the university,” said Watts.

Mary Ellen Caro, President and CEO of Peirce College, noted that Peirce was one of the country’s earliest adopters of online education, and the only university in Pennsylvania that is dedicated exclusively to serving working adult students. Pierce currently serves approximately 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students, 85% of whom are Pennsylvania residents. Caro recommended using surplus funding to invest in adult students to help them advance their education.

“Our students rely on public funding to fuel their success, and I believe it is a wise investment for the commonwealth. We should be creating opportunities for adults to upskill and reskill in ways that work for them,” said Caro. “Online education is a way to increase equitable access for many, but general higher education costs remain a barrier. Opportunities for investment are possible through programs that provide scholarships for short, stackable credentialing programs.”

Wednesday’s hearing can be viewed in its entirety here. Photos will be available here.

Information about this hearing and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at