Oregon legislature to WA: We’ll see your tuition freeze and raise you – by lowering tuition to $0

SEATTLE | While Washington legislators are (rightly) proud of the one-year tuition freeze included in their recent budget deal, Oregon has just upped the ante with legislation that could reduce higher education tuition in that state to $0.

That’s right: Zero. Zilch. Nada.

On Monday, the Oregon State legislature unanimously passed HB 3472, directing Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Committee to examine and propose both a tuition freeze and a “Pay It Forward” pilot program designed to provide access to a debt-free degree for all students and full funding for public higher education.

Under Oregon’s plan, there are no upfront tuition fees to attend college – the primary driver of student debt. Instead, students pay a small percentage of their income for 24 years after graduation: 1.5% for a two-year degree or 4% for four-year degree. This offers students and their families a pathway to a college degree without the burden of student debt. Student payments contribute to a trust fund that will eventually become self-funding, covering tuition costs for future students.

Oregon’s action – on the same day that federal student loan interest rates doubled – makes it (so far) the sole state to start de-escalating the student debt crisis. But that may change soon.

Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), Chair of the Washington state House Higher Education Committee, wants his state to examine Pay It Forward as well. “The burden of student debt is at a crisis level – and no wonder: cuts in state funding have driven tuition costs out of reach. Pay It Forward represents a real opportunity to make college affordable again for Washington’s students.” Leaders in California, Vermont, and New York also have shown interest.

The Pay It Forward plan was originally developed by the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI), which then worked with Portland State University students to design a proposal for Oregon. The Oregon Working Families Party, the anti-poverty group Jubilee Oregon and PSU students championed Oregon’s legislation. EOI will work with Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Committee in the coming year to develop the pilot program, which will be submitted to the 2015 legislature for approval.

Posted in Educational Opportunity, Higher Education