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Will ‘pay it forward’ tuition bill lead to higher costs?

David Boze wonders whether a new 'pay it forward' college tuition bill could lead to increased college costs and lowered expectations. (MyNorthwest file)

Washington may radically change the way students and their families pay college tuition, which may lead to decreased ambitions and higher tuition down the line.

Instead of students paying tuition by borrowing loans or earning scholarships, they would pay for college by giving back 2 to 5 percent of their post-college earnings for up to 25 years – no matter what career path they choose.

Washington House Bill 2720 is being described as a “pay it forward” style of paying for college.

But that manner of paying for college concerns KTTH host David Boze on two fronts.

First, the rule would apply to students no matter what career they choose. So, if a student becomes a teacher earning $30,000 per year, he would pay 2 percent of his salary back the same as someone who chose a more specialized and high-paying field like computer engineering.

That might cause students who are pursuing a low-pay career path or major – for example, journalism, teaching, or art – to attend school at a more expensive university when they could get the same education at a less expensive community college or small state school.

The law is saying “if you want a job that has lower pay, don’t worry about the tuition costs; don’t worry about how much you have to pay to get into that field; don’t worry about the cost of the school,” Boze commented. “You’re not going to choose a less-expensive alternative because the cost is going to be the same to you.”

That kind of a price distortion, Boze says, could lead to soaring tuition costs.

“Is there any downward pressure [to lower tuition] on the universities and the colleges if you make it so the degree cost doesn’t matter to the individual?” Boze wondered.

Plus, this “pay it forward” plan eliminates the value and independence that comes from paying your own way, Boze said.

Of course, liberal state legislators are pushing HB2720 as some sort of income inequality measure. State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, a primary sponsor, told the Associated Press, “It enables people across a wide spectrum of incomes to simply go to college.”

Seaquist is also apparently in favor of lowered expectations.

“If your heart takes you to a lower paying job, you should be able to go there,” he said.

The “pay it forward” bill was forwarded to the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 5, but the committee has not scheduled it for a hearing yet.

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