Once upon a time, American college graduates had the world at their fingertips, choosing jobs and occupations in top-tier companies with excellent pay and outstanding benefits. These days, not only do students have to deal with one of the worst labor markets in American history, they also have to deal with astronomical levels of crushing student debt.
While tuition costs for public universities have skyrocketed in recent years, funding for public education has dried up, leading many students to forfeit a college education or endure decades of paying back student loans with their inadequate salaries.
Fortunately, progressive Democrats in Oregon have come up with a solution that will allow students to attend public state universities tuition free! The initiative, called Pay It Forward, will allow students to attend a two or four-year state university free of cost, in exchange for having 3% deducted from their post graduation paychecks for about 25 years.
The bill, which passed unanimously and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber, will direct the state’s Higher Education Commission to come up with a Pay It Forward pilot project to be considered by the 2015 Oregon Legislature.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be the $9 billion price tag of the programs initial cost, given the fact that initial students entering the program will be entering the labor force for at least a few years after their first semester.
Paying for future students will not be a problem, as money paid into the fund by the first batch of students will go towards paying for the education of incoming students.
‘‘I feel as if the problem of student debt has reached a tipping point. It’s on legislators’ minds,’’ said state Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. ‘‘And I think it’s on legislators’ minds because it’s on their constituents’ minds. This is something we’re hearing a lot about — at the doorstep, through our polling, through our e-mail.’’
The Pay It Forward concept is based on a similar model used in Australia, where the program has been in place for over a decade with excellent results.
‘‘This is going to happen because students demand change; I believe that firmly,’’ said Steve Hughes, state director of the Oregon Working Families Party. ‘‘The conditions are just absolutely ripe for this. We’ve heard so many stories of student debt that are just beyond belief.’’
The great thing about this program, is that, aside from the initial investment, it is self-funding and self-sustainable.
‘‘This is not a loan,’’ said John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. ‘‘You’re paying forward, essentially, so your contributions would enable the next generational cohort of students the same free access.’’
It’s about time that legislators start figuring out creative ways to help America’s biggest investment: students. When it comes time to bail out the banks or cut important regulations, our members of Congress are very creative at coming up with mechanisms that benefit multinational corporations and international banks.
While Oregon is the first state in the nation to employ the Pay It Forward model, legislatures in several other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Washington have expressed serious interest in implementing the program in their states as well.
It is imperative that the American left supports their efforts and helps maintain control of a public narrative that is sure to be poisoned by Tea Party anti-government ideologues who will undoubtedly deride this program as a socialist taxpayer giveaway.
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