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08/07/2013 04:34 pm ET

A Debt-Free Degree? Oregon's New Plan Would Eliminate Upfront College Costs | In These Times

AP

Everyone agrees that the $1 trillion in student debt carried by Americans is a problem. Yet on a national level, Congress has only managed a deal that will keep interest rates low for new loans this year, but let them go up in the future.

Now, one state, Oregon, is looking at broader, more far-reaching changes. On July 1, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill that could dramatically alter how public education in Oregon is funded.

The proposed program, called Pay It Forward, was conceived by students and backed by the Oregon Working Families Party, a political party/grassroots organization that promotes progressive, pro-labor candidates and policies. Pay It Forward would eliminate tuition as we know it at the state’s public universities and colleges. Instead of paying up front, students would sign up to pay the state a proportion of their income after they finish school.

It'll be a few years yet before anything goes into action. The bill instructs the state's Higher Education Coordinating Committee to set up a pilot plan for Pay It Forward to be considered by the state's 2015 legislature. But the move has set off a broad debate nationally, with both conservatives and progressives coming out for and against the plan.

Some herald it as a debt-free degree, but that largely depends on how you define "debt."

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