Oregon Draws Up Radical Tuition-Free Program for Colleges


As the student-debt crisis looms, Oregon is considering a solution of its own, a plan called “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back.”

The plan would allow students to attend state schools without taking out any loans or paying anything up front, as long as they agree to pay up to three percent of their future salaries into a fund annually for 24 years.

“We have to get way out of the box if we’re going to get serious about getting young people into college and out of college without burdening them with a lifetime of debt,” Mark Hass, a Democratic state senator from Beaverton, Oregon, told the Wall Street Journal.

Hass championed a bill that creates a study committee charged with created the pilot program, which was passed unanimously in the state’s Senate on July 8 and had already gained House approval.

The legislature will now decide in 2015 whether to implement the pilot program or not.

According to the Journal, the idea came from the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan group out of Washington state. Oregon is the first to take action on the idea.

“If it’s done correctly it’s essentially creating a social insurance vehicle for enabling access to higher education,” John Burbank, the institute’s executive director said.

The plan comes at a pivotal time. Public funding for higher education has plunged, tuitions are high, and total student-loan debt in the United States is more than $1 trillion. And, on July 1, interest rates on government tuition loans doubled to 6.8 percent because the Senate didn’t block the increase.

Oregon has 10 federally recognized tribes and according to the 2012 Census, an American Indian population of 1.8 percent.