On August 9, US Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) visited the University of Oregon to announce plans to introduce legislation based on the Pay it Forward proposal passed by the Oregon Legislature during the 2013 session. Merkley was joined at the event by State Representative Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene); Kimberly Espy, UO vice president for research, innovation and graduate education; the student body presidents of the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Lane Community College; and the Portland State University students who promoted the Pay it Forward legislation during the 2013 session.
Merkley’s bill, which he expects to introduce in September, proposes the establishment of a “deferred education expenses fee” to take the place of student loans. The legislation would allow students to defer payment for college until they have sufficient income. The program would be administered by the US Department of Education using Stafford loan infrastructure for pilot projects in certain states. Prior to implementation of pilot projects, the US Secretary of Education would conduct a feasibility study.
Merkley credited the state legislation, HB 3472, as his inspiration. The state proposal directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to study the Pay it Forward model and report back its findings during the 2014 session. The model proposes a system of financing for post-secondary education whereby, in lieu of paying tuition or fees, students sign a binding contract to pay the State of Oregon or the institution a certain percentage of annual adjusted gross income for a specified number of years following graduation.
Merkley also spoke to City Club, which was held at the UO Law School. His noontime talk focused on restoration of the American middle class.