Provide Free Higher Education Without Mounting Debt

Target: Washington State Governor Jay Inslee

Goal: Provide access to a debt-free higher education in Washington State

Oregon Legislature recently passed a bill that paves a way for college students to graduate without debt. They would not have to pay tuition; however, after graduation they would pay a small percentage of their income to fund instruction for the next generation of students. This system is a huge step forward for students struggling with college loan debt. Washington State should adopt a similar program because students in the state have the same problems as in Oregon.

On the same day that federal student loans interest rates doubled, Oregon is looking into the future without any debt for its students. The Debt-Free Higher Education plan passed unanimously in the state legislature and is headed to the governor for signature. The bill directs the Higher Education Coordinating Committee to examine and implement a Pay It Forward pilot program and to freeze tuition.

Pay It Forward is a social insurance program, much like social security, and not a loan. After graduates find a job, for 20 years they would pay a small percentage of their salary into a fund that would guarantee the same free public education to future students. The rate for those who attended a community college would be 1.5 percent, and 3 percent for a four-year school. Thus, a recent graduate making $30,000 a year would pay $900 annually, and if $60,000, then $1,800 per year. This would be done as a payroll deduction, making the contribution an affordable and stable expense.

Before an income stream for the program can be established, start-up funding source must be established immediately for the first 15 to 20 years of the pilot program. The funding must have a revolving fund to deposit payments made under the pilot program. Section 4 of the bill states: “This 2013 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2013 Act takes effect on its passage.”

College debt that is crashing graduates in this country threatens public peace, health and safety. Oregon legislators thought that only an emergency act could help save the state from financial ruin that students face. The reason that this debt not only harms students but also the economy is that recent graduates cannot take a mortgage or even a car loan. Furthermore, if a graduate cannot find a job, there is still no reprieve from creditors. The system of student loans is fundamentally wrong, hurts families and the economy. After World War II the economic boom was only possible because our government made sure people could afford college. Many public colleges were free or cheap. The situation we have today only benefits Wall Street. Oregon is taking a bold step to change that, and so should the State of Washington. Sign below to urge Governor Inslee to propose a similar piece of legislation.

Dear Governor Inslee,

Student debt is crashing America. It is now official that more than 38 million people collectively owe more than $1.1 trillion in debt, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is more than the collective credit card debt ($693 billion) and auto loans ($730 billion) in the country. This is a crisis, but Oregon is drastically improving the situation. The state legislature unanimously passed the Debt-Free Higher Education plan. Starting in 2015, students can go to a public college for free and without a loan from a bank. The legislation, now headed to the governor or Oregon, directs Higher Education Coordinating Committee to examine and implement a Pay It Forward pilot program and also to freeze tuition.

This system is based upon a pay-it-forward scheme. For 20 years new graduates would have to pay a small portion of their income to the state or the school they went to through a payroll deduction: 1.5 percent for community college and 3 percent for a four-year school. The deduction would provide a constant stream of funds, making the program financially soluble. In that way it can be compared to Social Security fund.

The Debt-Free Education plan should be a model for Washington State. Students in the state face the same problems as students in Oregon. Tuition has skyrocketed over the last couple of years because state funding was cut. Please consider adopting this superb education plan in Washington State during the next session.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: SalFalko via Flickr

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  1. Please remember your friends in California. We are suffering from this oppressive debt too. You should make a petition out to all governors whose state has this issue. Please. As fellow college students we need to help each other out.

    • Elena Rumiantseva says:

      Hello, Karen! I just wrote a petition just like you asked to the chair of Democratic Governors Association. I told him about the Oregon bill and suggested he talk about it with his fellow Democratic governors. Does that suffice?

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