Oregon Tuition Plan: The Beaver State Breaks the Dam Of Student Debt

Congress can spend all the time it wants being apathetic and letting student loan rates double but on the other side of the country, one state is thinking of a more creative way to run the financial aspect of public higher education. For Oregon, loans will be a thing of the past and state legislatures are throwing around the “f” word: FREE.

A bill to make tuition at the state's public universities free passed unanimously and is expected to be officially signed at some point this month by Governor John Kitzhaber. Coincidentally, the bill was passed on the very same Monday that federal student loan interest rates doubled from 3.4 to 6.8% and functioned as a snippet of hope. There is a chance for change, as students to have options outside of the federal loan system to fund their educations, but it is up to individual states to take action. 

The concept of making public institutions of higher education tuition and loan-free is now being called the “Pay-It-Forward” program and it functions just as the name entails. Of course, everyone knows that almost nothing comes without a price and anything that truly is free may ultimately turn out to be more costly, monetarily or otherwise. However, the bill will still hold students responsible for contributing to their education, but collecting these compensations will be done in a manner that is mindful of the student’s financial situation after joining the workforce.

Graduates of a four-year public college or university will be expected to pay 3% of their adjusted growth income over a 24-year span, and graduates of a two-year degree will be required to contribute 1.5%. Those who fail to graduate will still be expected to contribute but fees will be pro-rated. 

"This is going to happen because students demand change; I believe that firmly," Steve Hughes, state director of the Oregon Working Families Party, said. "The conditions are just absolutely ripe for this. We've heard so many stories of student debt that are just beyond belief."

This plan is not about actually providing free education, as the money evidently would have to come from somewhere, but the goal behind it is to keep students from automatically feeling the dread of student loans and having the fear that their incomes may possibly be inadequate to pay the borrowed funds back. No person should feel discouraged from attending college due to fears that he or she will be unable to come up with the money to pay for it and it seems that this plan, if instated, could help on these fronts.

Above all, Oregon’s move to do something about the hefty cost of higher education especially given the rise in student debt is a reminder that change is not limited to the federal government, and there should be a larger push towards getting state legislatures to implement the changes that its constituents demand.