Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unanimous passage of Economic Opportunity Institute’s Pay It Forward model in Oregon – an innovative, debt-free model for access to higher education. With the support of students, professors, lawmakers and community leaders, Pay It Forward legislation is now active in 25 states, with study bills passed in Maine, Louisiana and Illinois.
“Just one year ago, a small group of Portland State University students changed the national conversation on student debt and college affordability,” stated Sami Alloy, legislative and policy director for the Oregon Working Families Party and member of Oregon’s Pay It Forward Workgroup. “Every day we hear from students in Oregon and from across the country who are waiting for lawmakers to take action on college affordability and implement Pay It Forward.”
Students, families, teachers, community advocates and business leaders across the country are acting to put an end to the student debt crisis by abolishing the biggest driver of college debt: upfront tuition.
Student debt topped $1.1 trillion in 2014, growing by 10 percent last year alone. Two-thirds of all students are borrowing to afford college, with 7 in 10 college seniors graduating with an average of $29,400 in student debt. Even federal student loans are becoming a bad deal for many graduates. For the first time in history, student loan delinquencies surpassed credit card defaults.
Higher education is critical to U.S. economic competitiveness. By 2018, two in three jobs will require some form of higher education. Yet, the Millennial generation is projected to be the first American generation less educated than their parents – an anomaly among developed countries. The game of loans that has sustained American higher education for over 30 years cannot continue if the United States wishes to be competitive in the global economy.
“Pay It Forward puts college on the table for every student and family – regardless of their ability to pay,” stated John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute where Pay It Forward was originally developed. “Pricing-out low-income and middle-class families from college education is morally reprehensible and economically unsustainable. Unlike this current debt-for-education system, Pay It Forward will enable graduates to be full participants in society, ready to start a family, buy a house or build a business and not worry about how they will send their own kids to college one day.”