A new plan–which will let students pay back loans at rates determined by how much income they make after college–began as an ambitious school project.
On the day federal legislators let student loan interest rates double, Oregon’s legislators passed a bill to make student loans obsolete.
The proposal is really only a tiny, tentative first step in that direction–calling for a committee to decide to create a pilot project–but it’s nonetheless a conjunction of many inspiring rarities: A fresh idea, passed swiftly and unanimously, bringing real progress to increasingly crushing student debt. And it all started, fittingly enough, in a classroom full of debt-ridden college seniors at Portland State University.
The class, called Student Debt: Economics, Policy and Advocacy, took as its starting point a novel policy proposal to scrap up-front tuition and replace it with a flat tax on students’ future earnings. Instead of struggling to escape defaulting on skyrocketing student loans, low-earning graduates would pay a correspondingly low amount, while high-earners would help keep the program solvent.
The class’s task was to turn this concept into something that looked more like policy. “The idea was very unformed, just a lot of numbers,” says Barbara Dudley, a long-time political activist and co-teacher of the PSU class. “We had to start thinking about opting out, opting in, what it would it look like, how many years, would the higher income students be pissed off …”
But while the students sweated the practical details, they weren’t expecting to put them into practice immediately. “We weren’t thinking that they were going to turn anything into legislation,” says Dudley. “You know, maybe they would talk to some legislators.”
Talking to one legislator led to talking to others. Their “final exam” was a panel discussion, where students walked four legislators through the student debt problem and their solution: that each year of full-time schooling corresponds to an additional .75% of a students’ future income, to be garnered for 24 years.
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