Paying it forward on student debt

Lynn Russo Whylly's picture
Thursday, August 15, 2013

Next month, lawmakers will return to state capitals around the country, and as many as a dozen legislatures could consider a new proposal to tackle the growing student-debt crisis. The plan, dubbed "Pay-it-Forward" by its creator, would allow students to enter college without having to pay tuition upfront: In exchange, they would agree to pay a small and set percentage of their income after college into a public fund allowing the next generation to do the same. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, released a plan Friday that would help provide seed money for pilot programs across the country using this model.

Almost all of the new initiatives were inspired by Oregon, where the state legislature passed a bill introducing a Pay-it-Forward scheme unanimously on July 1. Barbara Dudley, an adjunct professor at Portland State University who in 2005 helped co-found the Oregon Working Families Party—a third party that has also been influential in New York and Connecticut—was watching the vote from her office. The successful vote was a personal victory. She and her students had helped write the bill.

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