OUR VIEW: Student debt requires options

We say: Program might give students the help they need

With the average post-secondary student now accumulating $27,000 in loans, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, higher learning is becoming more out of reach.

What’s the solution? Let’s start with a conversation, such as the one happening south of the border right now. One so innovative that policy-makers in Canada should take note.

This summer the Oregon legislature agreed to study a trial program that would allow students to attend state universities with no money down. In other words, no tuition. The catch is students must contribute a set portion of their future income to the program — essentially paying for their debt.

Students would sign a binding contract to pay the state or the institution a certain percentage of their adjusted gross income for a specified number of years following graduation.

Lawmakers in Oregon were unanimous in agreeing to the study. And good on them.

The Oregon approach is not perfect. For example, the pay-back period could last over 20 years, a long time for people to continue paying schooling costs. There’s likely also a significant up-front cost to the program for government.

But the cost of studying the idea is no doubt worthwhile. Indeed, it removes financial lenders — and their interest and fees — from the equation. It also removes the penalty on students who choose to pursue lower-paid professions.

Government doesn’t have more money to boost the budgets of post-secondary institutions. Students are expected to take the hit. It might not be for everyone, but the Pay Forward, Pay Back program just might give the right students the right help at the right time.

-Black Press