There’s a certain amount of irony inherent in paying for college—we take out loans and spend all our money so we can get a job that allows us to spend our first 20 years of freedom paying back the institution that gifted us with “higher education.” There’s little doubt about the value of a college degree, and it seems that the political sphere is finally beginning to notice.


The Oregon Legislature is considering a program they have deemed “Pay It Forward,” which would allow Oregon students to attend the state college tuition free, according to CNN.  As with any plan that sounds too good, there is a bit of a “catch.”  Instead of taking out loans and accruing huge debt, students pay the state a small portion of their income “over the course of a couple decades.”


This portion of the proposal begs the question—what exactly constitutes a loan?  Is this still a way to potentially indebt students, but simply one that sounds sweeter?  Or does this proposal constitute a novel idea?  It could allow students to concentrate more on school, as opposed to their minimum wage jobs, and could genuinely make a massive improvement on performance levels.


Regardless of how you spin it, this is still a pseudo loan, but it seems far superior to the alternative, the traditional loan system.  According to CNN, “the amount of repayment would be 0.75 percent of the student’s annual income per year of schooling — so, for example, someone who got a four-year bachelors’ degree would pay 3 percent of income for 20 to 25 years.”


Not only is this a better deal than student loans, which come with potentially high interest rates, but it’s also got that “pay it forward” component I keep mentioning—the money paid back to the state goes into a trust fund, to help future students pay.  This sounds to me a little like the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, which makes less and less money every year.  But unlike our ever-dwindling lottery scholarship, the Pay It Forward program would have a mandatory pay in, making it less likely to leave students stranded only years after the launch of the program.


This particular proposition left me wondering about whether or not colleges are doing as much as they can to lower their costs.  America may have one of the only profit-based education systems in developed countries, especially in the case of college.  The UofA is built just as much around making money as it is spitting out well qualified graduates.  This is an unfortunate fact, which makes programs like the one in Oregon look ever more wise.


I think the question that needs to be raised next deals with the selectivity of a major college or university.  The UofA can’t necessarily fund students in the same way as the Oregon plan would, not because they don’t have enough money, but because for the selection of prospective students for whose education you’re paying, merit is obviously of high importance.  I shouldn’t say the UofA is doing everything they can to help us, but they do have a certain amount of selectivity in regards to giving out serious amounts of money.


In contrast to the UofA, the Arkansas Legislature would be wise to do a serious case study on this particular program in Oregon, as the amount offered to incoming freshmen through the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery has dropped from $5,000  in 2010 to only $2,000 in 2013.  I don’t need to do the math for you guys here, but that’s a pretty substantial decrease, as it breaks down to only $1,000 a semester, which pays for very little around here.

It’ll be interesting, going forward, to watch the plan in Oregon unfold, especially in contrast to our own legislature-enacted assistance, both of which aim to help students pay for college—in very different ways. All you can do at this point is wait, and while you’re waiting, you’d better hope your Arkansas Lottery Scholarship doesn’t run out of money, because there’s no trust fund behind that one…

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