Washington State House Democrats


Should college graduates ‘Pay It Forward’?

Nowadays many college students are juggling two or three jobs to pay for school, on top of student loans. The Great Recession has led to deep cuts in higher ed, sending tuition prices into the stratosphere and knocking many students off the ladder of opportunity.

The result? An even wider divide between the Charlie Bucket’s and the Mr. Burns’ of the world.

Legislators in Olympia are exploring solutions to this growing problem. One proposal that’s gained traction in Oregon is Pay It Forward (PIF).

Under a PIF financing model, students could enroll in a public university or college for free. When they leave college, they pay back a set percentage, based on their income. The pool of PIF funds finances the costs for the next cohort, and so on.

Pay It Forward college tuition
Photo: Katherine B. Turner, UW

This could level the playing field for middle and lower income students by removing financial barriers.

Removing economic barriers, increased enrollment, and providing businesses with the skills they need to grow are just a few of the arguments for a PIF system. Students still get federal aid that would cover peripheral costs like living expenses and books.

House Higher Education Committee Chair Larry Seaquist supports exploring Pay It Forward, but recognizes there are issues that need further examination.

One objection to PIF is that it would replace the current funding system with a fee-for-service. This means that future legislatures might easily use this system to replace state funding. That could deprive institutions of vital resources and compromise quality.

Other concerns include potential elimination of need-based financial aid and predisposition towards programs and candidates that will generate higher income graduates.

Some legislators and stakeholders believe it would be more effective to maintain our current funding system and focus more resources on lowering student debt.

Check out these links to learn more:
Economic Opportunity Institute: Pay It Forward: Refinancing Higher Education to Restore the American Dream
NY Times: What’s Best Isn’t Always Clear