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January 31, 2014

The president didn’t say much about college affordability in his state of the union address this week, unlike in previous years, but some members of Congress are pushing the issue. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) introduced a bill Wednesday that would waive tuition at public universities. Instead, students would pay a percentage of their incomes after graduation.

The concept is known as “pay it forward,” because ultimately the money graduates pay into the system would help fund college for those who come after them. Too many students are daunted by high tuition and expensive loans, says Bonamici. The average debt load for the class of 2012 was more than $29,000.

“We’re hoping that this actually encourages more students to enroll and complete college, knowing that they’ll be able to finish and pay back a percentage of their income,” Bonamici says.

Like a version already introduced in the Senate, the House bill is modeled after a pilot program in Oregon. Similar plans have been floated in states like New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Critics say forking over a chunk of their paychecks for 20 or 25 years could actually cost students more over their lifetimes.

“Changing what you call the financial obligation doesn’t mean that it’s not a financial obligation,” says Lauren Asher with the Institute for College Access and Success.

The idea is to test out a new way of paying for college, says Bonamici. If it passes the bill would provide federal funding for states that want to try it.

This story originally aired on Marketplace Morning Report.

confronting costs, new business models, tuition, higher education

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