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‘Pay It Forward’ Plans Are No Cure for Rising College Costs, Report Says

A new report refutes the proposed “Pay It Forward” model of paying for college, saying in a point-by-point analysis that it would leave most graduates deeper in debt than if they had taken out loans, and would throw colleges’ balance sheets into uncertainty, among other things.

The report, released by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, assails the idea of allowing students to attend college without having to take out loans while requiring them to devote a portion of their later earnings to paying off tuition. First proposed by students at Portland State University, Pay It Forward has drawn increasing criticism since Oregon passed a law to study the idea.

Among the criticisms in the association’s report:

  • Pay It Forward does not account for nontuition costs like room and board.
  • Students who generally rack up the most debt—those at for-profit and private nonprofit institutions—would not be eligible for the program.
  • The program would have “enormous” start-up costs.

The report, titled “The ‘Pay It Forward’ College Financing Concept: A Pathway to the Privatization of Public Higher Education,” was written by Thomas L. Harnisch, the association’s assistant director of state relations and policy analysis.

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