There has been much to-do about the bill passed in Oregon to form a committee to look at the possibility of passing a future bill for student debt-free college tuition. If you remove the whole middle part of that last sentence and just kind of ignore it, the hubbub makes sense — with student debt causing both personal hardships and macroeconomic ripple effects, the option to offer public higher education and guarantee no debt could be a game-changer.
Some people on the left like this plan. Some people to their left hate it. Some people to the left of the people who are already on the left love it. And most people don’t care one way or another because they have jobs and families and still can’t get over the fact that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West managed to ruin their baby’s life at literally the very first possible moment by naming their kid a direction. A direction!
Now I want to weigh in even if it adds little to no value to the world, which is why Al Gore invented blogging in the first place.
Putting aside the policy nitty-gritty, what is at stake here is whether we think public higher education should be a universal program or an individual luxury good. Most progressives and advocates of increased college access favor the former — rather than pushing tuition onto individual students or groups of students, they prefer public subsidies to fund the majority of public higher ed.
The liberal blogger Matt Bruenig (with whom I have discussed this), however, lays out the case for a different strategy. In his view, only users of college should pay because the non-users are predominantly poor. The benefits of the Oregon plan, then, are that it narrows the group of people paying for college from society at large (in the form of tax revenues) to only users of college — but does not put the onus on any specific individual. Unlike simply increasing tuition for each student, a plan like the Oregon plan puts the cost on the entire group of students that have used the college’s services under the payment plan (any underpayments are covered by the buffer fund paid into by former students). Thus, students under the Oregon plan share the same risk pooling of wider tax-funded programs.
It is not ‘Pay It Yourself’ as much as it is ‘Pay It If You Also Attended College.’ The second acronym is less catchy, but they can hire a team to work on that.