SEATTLE - From the Wall Street Journal to the Oregon Legislature, an idea that began in Washington for funding college and eliminating student debt is getting some serious attention. The "Pay It Forward" plan would allow students to attend college tuition-free - with a contract to pay a small percentage of their wages for 20 to 25 years after college into a fund for other students, who also would attend tuition-free.
The concept was proposed by the Economic Opportunity Institute, Seattle. Its executive director, John Burbank, has been asked to present it to groups from California to Vermont as an alternative to mountains of student debt.
"It's a psychological as well as a financial barrier," Burbank said, "and this pretty much demolishes those barriers and opens up higher education for all qualified Americans. That's pretty exciting, and we are really excited that this has gained such interest."
Burbank said the toughest challenge is coming up with the seed money for the first generation of "Pay It Forward" students - after that, the plan becomes self-financing. The Washington Legislature was preoccupied this session, but Oregon lawmakers ran with the idea, passing HB 3472, a bill to create a pilot program for "Pay It Forward."
The Oregon Working Families Party helped maintain the momentum for the legislation. Campaign manager Sami Alloy said she kept an image in her mind that she had seen on the Internet.
"It was a graffiti somebody had written that said, 'What if the cure for cancer lies inside the brain of someone who can't afford college?' I think about that all the time. Young people are doing worse than their parents did because of the enormous burden of student debt and the unaffordability of higher education," said Alloy.
She predicts that college tuition hikes and the recent failure of Congress to stop the interest-rate increase on student loans will mean other states will want to consider "Pay It Forward" college funding.