Free College (At First) Under Proposed Bill

Imagine a world where money is not an immediate concern when choosing to attend a college.

A new bill being proposed in Washington state could make this a reality. The bill is called Pay It Forward and was proposed by Representative Larry Seaquist.

Essentially, the bill would allow for students to go to college without paying up front tuition. All costs could be paid after graduation from a fixed percentage of the student’s annual income. The idea is that each graduating class would help to “pay it forward” for the next generation of students.

“One way of looking at it is that it is essentially just a giant loan,” said Jeff Scofield, director of student financial services. “Current loan programs are limited in what you can borrow and are paid back in 10 years. This plan seems not to be limited and could take a potentially long time to pay off.”

The bill can take up to 25 years to pay off, depending on the student’s income after graduation. This plan gives the student a clear idea of how they will be paying for their education.

Students tend to have differing views on what they think of the bill. Some don’t see it as that different from having to pay off the student loans they already have.

“The plan seems very ominous,” said freshman Afina Walton. “It is just something terrible to look forward to. But that is what we have now with loans.”

One positive of the bill is that paying a small percentage of income over a long period of time could be easier on students rather than being immediately faced with the task of paying for tuition upon entry into higher education.

“The bill will likely encourage more motivated students with low incomes to pursue college degrees,” Carlson said.

That is the goal—to allow students with low incomes to have an easier way to attend college by avoiding the upfront costs, according to the bill creators.

“It enables people across a wide spectrum of incomes to simply go to college,” Seaquist told The
Seattle Times.

Each year the cost of tuition at colleges and universities is increasing, and student debt continues to grow. This leads to growing concerns for families with low and middle level income that want to send their children to college. For many of those families, the task appears impossible.

But if this bill were to be accepted, families would not have to worry about the financial burden of sending their kids to college, Seaquist says.

Ideally, students would be in a better position to pay for their education after college.
The fact that tuition would be covered up front could raise some concerns on student motivation, Scofield said. Because payments aren’t required early on, students could forget the importance of
additional funding.

“It could be an unintended consequence that students would no longer have the incentive to try to receive current funding such as scholarships,” Scofield said. “They can say, ‘I’ll just take care of it later.’”

Another issue that has come up with the proposed bill is that it would take funding away from current programs such as need-based grants that are helping students pay for college. However, the hope is that the program would eventually be able to sustain itself off the student payments and be independent of state funds.

There have been similar proposals for new legislation in 17 other states, though no state has actually implemented a Pay it Forward system.

Oregon will be looking into a potential test run of the program beginning in 2015.

Representative Seaquist is hopeful the bill will eventually be implemented. If the bill is passed and receives enough initial funds, up to five high schools in Washington State with large proportions of low income students will be selected to start up the program. Seaquist wants to see everyone have access to higher education.

“This sounds good,” said Seattle U senior Casey Ferris. “Education is an investment for the workforce that pays for itself. Anything that allows for a larger educated populous is good for all aspects of society.”

Harrison Bucher

Harrison Bucher is a business management and marketing major in his second year at Seattle University. This year he joined the Spectator as a writer. He enjoys writing, movies and sports.


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