First Oregon, Now Ohio Looking at ‘Pay It Forward’ Tuition Plan

Oregon’s plan to allow students to pay college tuition expenses after graduation attracted enough attention that two lawmakers in Ohio are considering submitting legislation that would call on state education authorities to develop and pilot a similar program. Representatives Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown and Mike Foley of Cleveland want a limited income-based repayment trial to last 2 years, after which the question of broader adoption would be brought back for legislative approval.

Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post reports that the plan would commit students to paying 3% of their annual income for 24 years after graduation. The percentage would remain constant regardless of the students’ actual income.

Hagan pointed out that this approach would protect graduates who have difficulty landing employment after earning their degree. Instead of being saddled with unaffordable debt payments, they would only be on the hook for any money once they start earning it.

The plan mimics a recently passed proposal in Oregon called “Pay It Forward,” which came out of a Portland State University class. That measure was similar to an idea that students at the University of California-Riverside presented in 2012. UC system president Mark Yudof called it a “constructive idea,” but the plan did not make it far.

Critics of Oregon’s plan, like Zac Bissonnette at Bloomberg View, argue that because high income graduates would pay more in absolute amounts, the plan punishes success.

Both plans are solutions to the problem of college affordability for students from low-income and middle-income families. The Economic Opportunity Institute, a think tank based in Seattle, believes that not having as many up-front costs could expand access for those who would otherwise be deterred from enrolling by either high tuition costs or who worry about taking on too much debt.

Hagan said that the proposal was a no-brainer in light of the fact that the federal government seems disinclined to take serious steps to address college affordability and student loan debt issues.

“It seems to me that the U.S. Congress is having trouble figuring out how to reduce the cost of education and the loans just went up- doubled. The second part of it is it’s increasingly more difficult for people to afford college. The costs are going up, just in Youngstown State University itself the costs are going up and we can’t control it,” he said.

The news release says the plan would require an initial investment from the state, but the fund would eventually become entirely self-supporting.