As student loan debt continues to skyrocket, one local politician wants to investigate eliminating tuition for the state's public colleges and universities and instituting a new way for schools to finance education, a proposal he's calling "a revolutionary step in how public higher education is funded and accessed in Pennsylvania."
State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D–Philadelphia) announced he'll be asking a legislative committee to review a plan popularly known as "Pay It Forward," which would collect a portion of students' postgraduate earnings over a set period of time, rather than requiring them to shoulder the cost of their education up front.
"With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent," Boyle said in a statement.
"This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model."
The plan, first detailed last year in a report by the Seattle based Economic Opportunity Institute, would create what Boyle calls "a trust fund for public higher education," financed by seed money until the number of paying graduates grew to a size rendering the trust self-sufficient.
The initial study estimated that development would take more than 20 years, though the figure could vary based on the size and projections of postgraduate earnings.
“At this point, we don’t have a clear idea on what the needs of Pay It Forward in Pennsylvania would be," Boyle said.
"That is why we need this study, so that we can gain a better understanding of this plan before discussing whether it is the most effective way of addressing the problems of student debt and college attainment in the Commonwealth."
Boyle's bill, if passed, would create a bipartisan committee of state representatives and senators to examine the Pay it Forward program's costs, identify potential funding sources and determine the feasibility of starting a pilot at selected public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.
The legislator said he was inspired by several other states that have recently passed similar legislation, most notably Oregon.
"I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas," Boyle said.
"The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game-changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania."
Boyle said he'll introduce the bill calling for further examination of the plan when the state House reconvenes in September.