Editorial: Future of ‘free’ education lies within Oregon’s legislature

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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In light of Congress’ failure to pass any legislation preventing the rise of interest rates on Stafford loans — money on which college students across the nation depend to subsidize their education — Oregon has implemented a plan that could make postsecondary education cost-efficient.

State Senator Mark Hass, chair of Oregon’s Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development, sponsored a bill to provide free tuition to students while they attend a community college or a public university. The “Pay It Forward, Pay it Back” plan revolves around the notion that students will be able to attend a postsecondary institution with no up-front costs or tuition. Students would instead sign a contract to pay a small, fixed percentage of their yearly gross income after they graduate for about 20 to 25 years.

“This is what thinking out of the box looks like,” noted Hass in an interview with ABC News. And he’s absolutely correct: Programs such as these serve as catalysts for intuitive ideas that could help alleviate the burden students face to pay for college.

Portland State University students came up with the idea and worked with other organizations and local representatives to create the initiative. The current plan that was approved by the Oregon state legislature would implement a pilot program to hash out the schematics of the idea to guarantee its feasibility. Lawmakers will decide in 2015 whether or not to implement the program.

However, the pilot program has to consider several apprehensions with such a program. For one, the pilot program has to distinguish how much 3 percent of a student’s yearly income is when compared to students who receive different salaries. Clearly, different students would pay different amounts based on the salaries they begin with and end up receiving further into their careers. Therefore, the pilot program must consider varying the percentage: Students who make more could potentially pay more, whereas students who make less will pay less.

This would help to curb the lack of diversity of majors the plan may be influencing. Students who won’t have to pay for college up front may choose to study a particular subject they never initially intended to study simply because money no longer becomes a factor. The plan, although noble and laudable in its intentions, has much work to do in order to ensure that the program can be effective.

According to The Wall Street Journal, getting a statewide program of this scale fully implemented could cost more than $9 billion over the duration of 24 years until enough graduates pay into the system to deem it self-sustaining.

Nonetheless, Portland State students should be applauded for their proposal. This type of diverse approach has the potential to be widely successful. States across the nation, including Pennsylvania, should pursue efforts to entertain such initiatives.

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