Oregon adopts radical new law to counteract rising tuition

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After the recent news of student loan rates doubling, many students are trying to find affordable ways to obtain higher education. Students in Oregon, however, may just be in luck.

A plan to eliminate tuition at Oregon’s public universities was approved last month by the Oregon Legislature. The plan, called “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back,” is meant to decrease rising debt among college students and was passed unanimously by both houses of the Oregon legislature.

College students wait by the steps of the House of Representatives for Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and GOP leaders to arrive for a news conference on federal student loan rates which doubled on July 1, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 8, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
College students wait by the steps of the House of Representatives for Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and GOP leaders to arrive for a news conference on federal student loan rates which doubled on July 1, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 8, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a statement supporting the bill given in February, Jason Gettel, a policy analyst from the Oregon Center for Public Policy, talked about the rising cost of tuition and debt for students over the past few decades.

Gettel said Oregon’s new measure could be successful in solving that problem. It would require students to pay about 3 percent of their income back to the state for approximately 20 years. By doing so, each student would cover the cost of their tuition, paying it back to the state and allowing more students to benefit from the program.

“Each student would simply pay in proportion to what they actually gain from their education in terms of income,” Gettel said. “And it turns out, the program can be self-sustaining, and actually generate revenue, in the long run.”

Tracy Gibbs, a student at Portland State University and a representative from Students for Educational Debt Reform, gave testimony about the importance of education. She spoke from a student’s point of view about the harsh realities of overwhelming debt and the negative effects this has on the economy.

If these problems are not addressed, Gibbs said, it is students and families who will face the consequences.

“Higher education is an integral part of the American dream,” Gibbs said. “’Pay it Forward’ represents a social commitment, not a debt.”

The bill calls for a pilot program, with money provided by the state to get the program off the ground. Eventually the plan will be self-sustaining from the payments of former students.

Oregon’s actions are prompting Utah students to look at what is being done here to keep college affordable. The cost of education continues to go up, with tuition at Utah Valley University rising 6 percent this fall, an increase that is small in comparison to other Utah schools.

Pamela Silberman, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education, said because this is such a new idea, nothing like it has been suggested in Utah.

“The main issue will be how to make up the loss from tuition in the budget,” Silberman said.

Though the results from Oregon’s plan will not be seen immediately, “Pay it Forward” presents options for students other than mounting debt during the years in which they are trying to establish themselves.

According to the Oregon Working Families Party, a group that focuses on issues important to most working families, even for students who can afford their college tuition, this system offers a better deal.

“’Pay it Forward’ will restore the next generation’s ability to enter the middle class upon graduation,” the party states on its website. “’Pay it Forward’ isn’t paying back a loan, it’s paying forward a guarantee of free higher education to future students.”

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