Gov. Shapiro touts plan to improve higher education during tour of Reading Area Community College

Governor Josh Shapiro has a blueprint to improve higher education in the Commonwealth and affordability, but his Republicans critics in Harrisburg argue his blueprint lacks crucial details.

At the community college of Reading, known as RACC, students learn respiratory therapy in one room while just down the hall they place catheters. 

The students, many the first in their families to go to college, are working toward two-year degrees and what they hope will be a better life.  

Wilfri Pena came to the U.S. chasing a dream of playing major league baseball. At 35, he’s studying healthcare.

"I am very proud of what I’ve become, and everything has been made possible because of RACC," said Pena.

Governor Shapiro toured RACC Thursday and ended up in a room filled with hospital beds, all part of his effort to win approval for his new Blueprint for Higher Education. 

Arguing the Commonwealth is nearly dead last in college affordability and investment in state schools, Shapiro wants to combine the ten universities in the State System of Higher Education, known as the PASSHE schools, including West Chester, with Pennsylvania's community colleges. 

He plans to drop the cost of a state college education to $1,000 per semester for lower income students, and fund schools like Penn State with a performance-based system. 

Shapiro said, "one that keeps young people in the Commonwealth, helps students with the skills they need, from microtomics to what they learn in the game room. It’s important we connect the dots."

Republicans in Harrisburg argue they also want to improve students’ path from community colleges to the PASSHE schools but say Shapiro’s "blueprint" has no details laying out how this major change will happen and they question if it can by June. 

Pressed by FOX 29’s Jeff Cole if he can make an end-of-session deadline, the first-term governor said, "we’ll get it done."

Both sides agree there’s a lot of work to be done, while a RACC student has big plans.

Jonathan Pensado will graduate in the spring with a degree in communications. 

He said, "I plan to transfer to NYU or Yale to study international business. RACC provided me with growth. It’s not possible without it."