Oregon makes state college tuition free — up front


by David Safier

Oregon is developing an innovative way to make state colleges more affordable. It's called Pay It Forward.

The concept — called Pay It Forward — calls for students to attend public universities tuition free and loan free. In exchange, students would have 3 percent deducted from their post-graduation paychecks for about a quarter-century. The money would go into a fund to pay for future students.

Ideally, state higher education should be nearly free. When I attended the University of California in the 60s, tuition was, I remember, under $50 a semester. State colleges were less, and community colleges [called city colleges in CA] were free. That's the citizenry paying it forward by investing in the young adults who are the future of the state and the country. But that kind of financial commitment from states isn't going to happen any time soon, and this is a very decent second-best solution for grads instead of burdening them with huge debts.

If you graduate college and can't find work, or can only find low wage work, or want to start a business that will pay you little or nothing for awhile, you're only going to pay back 3% of little or nothing until your income raises. What a boon that would be to the English, History and Art majors who know they're unlikely to make enough money to justify huge loans. Likewise the graduate who wants to work in a low paying job with greater personal satisfaction (and possibly more positive social impact) rather than a higher paying job where they may end up selling their souls to pay off their loans. These folks won't have to defer their loans to be paid later. After about 25 years of paying 3% of their income, no matter how high or how low, they've paid off their debt.

Meanwhile, people who make big money will pay 3% of big money. But if for any reason the money stops pouring in, they'll pay 3% of their lowered income.

Sounds good to me.


  1. Oregon has been progressive and “kind” as long as I can remember. Moved there in the late 80’s with a good friend and my 17 yr old son and my son’s best friend, who had been kicked out when his mother remarried and the step-father didn’t want him around. There we were in the middle of the Oregon Coast, no jobs, just enough money to rent a place, and found no end of friendliness and help. We all found jobs pretty quickly at the outlet mall or restaurants, but until funds started coming in we were able to go to their food bank and get enough to carry us for a month or so. There were no questions asked but our address….no shaming, no being made to feel like moochers, or outsiders….just kindness. Once we were working we made sure to pay it back to them with donations and I have always remembered how easy, caring, and warm they were to strangers in their town.

  2. There’s one aspect missing from this program, that needs to take place at the federal level. The 3% paid to the school should be deducted in determining taxable income. If college is a cost of obtaining employment, the cost of college logically should be deductible just as a business is allowed to deduct the expenses it incurs in the process of generating income.

  3. This is an incredible idea and coupled with Oregon looking to do universal voter registration, they may just become the most progressive state in the union.

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