Maryland may soon join Oregon in exploring solutions to the crisis of student debt and unaffordable education.
Education is supposed to be a human right. But the United States puts people into deep debt to pay for it. Short of taxing billionaires or dismantling bombers (both of which we're all, I hope, working on), what's the solution?
The state of Oregon has passed a law creating a commission to study a plan called "Pay it forward. Pay it back." See Katrina vanden Heuvel: An Oregon Trail to End Student Debt.
This is not a plan to make education truly free, and that would probably be ideal. But this is not, I think, a step that would move us away from that goal -- in the way that strengthening but tweaking the private health insurance system arguably moves us away from a single-payer solution.
This is, however, a plan that makes college tuition at state universities initially free. Students would pay nothing up-front and borrow nothing from loan sharks. Then they would pay the state back 3% of their income for some number of years, possibly 20. The graduate who brings in $100 million per year would hand over $3 million. The graduate who brings in $10,000 would pay $300. While the purpose of an education for many students may not be related to money, in terms of money one is paying for what one gets. If you buy an unmarketable skill, you pay nothing for it. Some have responded by calling this perfect capitalism, while others have noted its correspondence with the ideal of "from each according to his/her means." This system also seems fair to those not interested in college: they pay nothing.
There are shortcomings, of course. Wealthy users of private universities contribute nothing to public universities under this scheme. Pursuers of high-paying careers might drift in greater numbers toward private universities, if they can afford to. A big investment is need to start this up, and then long-term trust in the public system is needed to keep it going in the face of inevitable pretenses that it's collapsing like Social Security (which -- breaking news! -- is not collapsing). Most importantly, perhaps, the Oregon model covers only tuition. Room and board and books should be included as well, or the problem of student debt won't be solved.
But this is a creative possible step forward that could someday spread to every state and to private institutions as well, which might discover it is needed for them to compete.
RootsAction.org members in every state and Washington, D.C., recently emailed their state legislators by the thousands asking them to set up commissions similar to Oregon's and to seriously pursue solutions to unaffordable education. You can do the same.
Here's the email that's being sent (you can edit it):
"As a constituent, I urge you to consider:
"The state of Oregon has passed a law creating a commission to study a plan called "Pay it forward. Pay it back." Under this plan, tuition at state universities will not be paid upfront or borrowed from loan sharks. Graduates will pay the state back by handing over 3% of their income for some number of years.
"The Oregon model could be improved. As proposed it covers only tuition. Room and board and books should be included as well, or the problem of student debt won't be solved.
"Getting such a program started will take serious investment and political will.
"For our children and our grandchildren, please exercise the sort of leadership needed and move our state toward treating education as a right, not a privilege."
Almost immediately, RootsAction heard from Maryland State Delegate Kirill Reznik who said he had been considering this idea and wanted to move on it now. He sent out this announcement:
"DELEGATE KIRILL REZNIK TO INTRODUCE “PAY IT FORWARD, PAY IT BACK” INITIATIVE IN 2014 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
"(ANNAPOLIS, MD) August 2, 2013 – Following the recent passage of the 'Pay It Forward, Pay It Back' bill that overwhelmingly passed the Oregon State Legislature in July, Delegate Kirill Reznik (D- Germantown) plans to introduce a similar bill in Maryland. If passed, Maryland would become the second state to explore alternative options to the mounting student loan debt epidemic.
"'Pay It Forward, Pay It Back,' is an idea that originated out of a Capstone Seminar on student debt out of Portland State University, generating an innovative solution to student loan debt. Whereby students would go to college tuition free and then give back a small percentage of their gross annual income over the next 20-25 years until their tuition was paid in full. Ironically, Oregon passed the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” bill on the same day that Congress voted to double student loan rates.
"Delegate Reznik will be introducing legislation to authorize a study to determine whether or not such an idea will work and how best to roll it out.
"'Receiving a higher education is the most effective way to promote economic mobility. Unfortunately, the cost of education shuts out those opportunities for too many Marylanders. As the State with the best public education system in the country, we should also be on the forefront of expanding higher education. The economic opportunities that will come along with this innovative approach will make Maryland a top destination for business and industry,' said Delegate Reznik.
"Delegate Kirill Reznik is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing the 39th District in Montgomery County. His district includes the areas of Gaithersburg, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Washington Grove, North Potomac and segments of Darnestown, and Derwood. He began serving in the House of Delegates in October 2007, and sits on the Health Government Operations committee. He was currently appointed to serve as the Chair of the County Affairs Committee within the Montgomery County House Delegation."
Now, the question arises: What about your state?!