When I went to school, my tuition and fees at a private college totaled $2,800 a year. Now, even at a public college, it can be $20,000 a year.
Now the Oregon Working Families party has gotten the Oregon legislature to approve a pilot program called Pay It Forward - where you would attend a state college and pay zero tuition, but with one catch.
"Students would pay into a dedicated higher education fund. A small percentage of their income upon graduation for a set number of years," explains Steve Hughes, the executive director of the Working Families Party.
You'd graduate after four years with no loan debt, but you would have to pay maybe 3% of your income ... for the next 25 years. The money would go into a fund to pay for the next crop of students, so the system could eventually be self-sustaining.
In full disclosure, I happen to be on the board of a think tank, the Economic Opportunity Institute, that has promoted this idea, but I can see an immediate adverse selection problem.
English majors would probably take that payment deal, which amounts to an additional income tax, since 3% of a barista's salary isn't going to be that much. Whereas Computer Engineering students wouldn't touch it.
To which Steve says:
"This program is going to work best when everyone has skin in the game, everyone benefits, and everyone contributes."
So you wouldn't have a choice? This would be the only way to pay?
"We haven't gotten to the point of saying 'this only works if,' but I don't think anyone disagrees that the system we have now is broken and we need to figure out some other solution."
He says the bigger adverse selection problem is tolerating a system that selects students out of college just because they're poor.