August 15th, 2014
Oregon's attention-getting proposal to offer students tuition-free college if they agree to repay a small portion of their earnings for years afterward got the official thumbs down from Oregon's higher education board this week.
The panel said Oregon has much more important things to spend its money on, including a huge expansion of need-based financial aid and bolstering community college and university operations, than to launch a ground-breaking but potentially unworkable tuition-free "Pay It Forward" plan.
It would be fine for Oregon to test out the idea with a small pilot program -- but the Legislature should only do so if it finds extra money to pay for it, not at the expense of those higher-priority initiatives, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission's budget panel concluded. Allowing 4,000 students to try it out would cost the state $5 million to $20 million a year for more than 20 years, proponents found.
That doesn't mean Pay It Forward, a concept originally proposed by Portland State University students that grabbed national headlines, is dead, said Ben Cannon, executive director of the commission. The commission will give the Legislature a report next month, as required, spelling out how a trial version of Pay It Forward would work and recommending that the state try it, if it somehow finds the necessary millions.