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A New Idea to Eliminate Student Debt Gains Traction

With tuition hikes of more than 3 percent approved for the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State this fall, an idea for funding college and eliminating student debt might be worth a look. In the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” plan, students attend college tuition-free, with a contract to pay a small percentage of their wages, for up to 25 years after college, into a fund for other students to be able to also attend tuition-free.

The idea was proposed by the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle, where John Burbank has been asked to present it to groups across the country as an alternative to mountains of student debt.

“It’s a psychological as well as a financial barrier, and this pretty much demolishes those barriers and opens up higher education for all qualified Americans,” Burbank declared. “That’s pretty exciting, and we are really excited that this has gained such interest.”

According to Burbank, the toughest challenge is coming up with the seed money for the first generation of “Pay It Forward” students: after that, the plan becomes self-financing.

This month, Oregon became the first state to pass a bill to create a pilot program for “Pay It Forward.”

The Oregon Working Families Party helped keep the momentum going for that state’s legislation. Campaign manager Sami Alloy said she kept an image in her mind that she saw on the Internet.

“It was a graffiti that somebody had written that said, ‘What if the cure for cancer lies inside the brain of someone who can’t afford college?’ And I think about that all the time,” she said. “Young people are doing worse than their parents did because of the enormous burden of student debt and the unaffordability of higher education.”

Alloy said she believes college tuition hikes and the recent failure of Congress to stop the interest rate increase on student loans will mean other states will soon consider “Pay It Forward” college funding.

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