The tuition program, recently proposed in Oregon, would allow students to enroll in the state’s universities with no money down. Instead of taking out massive loans, the students would agree to divert 3% of their salaries after graduation to a designated fund, for a total of 24 years.
Thus the title for the plan: “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back.” New enrollees draw from the fund while attending school, but they’ll eventually “pay it back,” once they’ve earned a degree and enter the workforce. Perhaps most importantly, they will have avoided the usual lenders and hefty interest rates.
Those who don’t graduate would still be required to pay into the fund, but the exact amount would be based on how many years they had completed.
Oregon’s Senate and House of Representatives have both signed off on a bill to create a pilot program based on the idea. While the state would most likely have to borrow money to jump-start the $9 billion fund, it is designed to eventually become self-sustaining.
There are, of course, other kinks that must be worked out.
Some point out that the program could actually create a negative incentive. Dave Girouard, chief executive of Upstart, a crowdfunding website for recent grads, told the WSJ that the program might alienate those with the highest earning potential, while remaining more attractive to “people who don’t intend to work as hard or have a bias toward earning less money.”
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Oregon’s Program Could Come to Other States
Nevertheless, the concept—first conceived by the nonprofit think tank Economic Opportunity Institute—is also being considered in states like New York, California and Pennsylvania.
John Burbank, the think tank’s executive director, told the WSJ that the plan could possibly be a new route to a college degree in America. “If it’s done correctly,” he said, it will create “a social insurance vehicle for enabling access to higher education.”