Free tuition? |

Free tuition?

According to the New York Times, the Oregon legislature has approved a bold remedy for student debt.

In a “pay it forward” scenario similar to Australia’s, students would attend public universities tuition free and loan free — but would sign a binding contract to have a certain percentage of their post-graduation paychecks taken by the state for the next 24 years. The money would go into a fund to pay for future students.

The legislators approved creation of a pilot program that will be scrutinized by and voted upon by the legislature in 2015. I truly hope the bugs can be worked out of this approach, though I must admit that unanimous votes worry me. What other blindingly obvious matters have they been ignoring? And when you get 100 percent of representatives from both sides of the aisle agreeing on ANYTHING and declaring “It’s high time,” my brain automatically translates their motives to “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”

Legislators may be all of one accord, but it certainly seems the public is divided over this, if the comment threads on the Huffington Post are any indication.

Of course on the one side are the hopeless progressives who will jump at anything new. On the other side are the curmudgeons who spew forth their cynical ideas every time there is a progressive brainstorm. These are the people who write tracts such as “Polio and Smallpox: Unsung Heroes of Nature,” “A List of Things Thomas Jefferson Could’ve Bought At The Dollar Tree Instead of Making The Louisiana Purchase” and “A Buyer’s Guide For Potbellied Stoves For One-Room Colleges.”

I think the danger is exaggerated, but I understand the concern of these folks that “professional students” will rack up unmarketable degree after unmarketable degree without ever getting a job and paying back into the system. Yes, theoretically one of the initial batch of freshmen might someday keel over during a lecture on “The 7th African-American President’s Socioeconomic Impact On Flash Mobs” and hoarsely whisper those three all-important words to his spouse of 75 years: “Toga! Toga! Toga!”

I understand that the quarter-century wage garnishment would not be a good bargain for those anticipating a high salary right out of the gate, but the appeal of the plan could be enhanced by cutting back on remedial math courses. (“I get to pay 3 percent of $100,000 until I’m middle-aged — AND I get to keep the magic beans!!!”)

Yes, many legitimate questions remain to be answered. Where will the startup funds come from? How will society wind up with the proper balance of liberal arts and tech majors? What if another baby boom increases costs?

And other states might have different methods. But it’s evident that SOMETHING needs to be done about the crushing debt of student loans.

A workable plan could be a boost to the economy, letting recent grads buy cars and homes and start businesses. It would even give people more romantic options. Right now too many young lovers are cooing, “How do I love thee? Let me count the decimal points in thy student loan. Yikes! Is your dropout sister seeing anyone?”


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