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WA's "Pay It Forward" Tuition-Free Plan Gains National Audience

PHOTO: Not every college applicant gets scholarships or qualifies for financial aid. The "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back" plan could be an alternative for some to finance their education without having to take out loans. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Not every college applicant gets scholarships or qualifies for financial aid. The "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back" plan could be an alternative for some to finance their education without having to take out loans. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com
October 7, 2013

SEATTLE - An idea from Washington for making college affordable is one focus of a national conference of researchers and policymakers today in Philadelphia.

The "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back" plan allows students to go to college tuition-free in exchange for paying a small portion of their income in the years after graduation into a fund allowing others to do the same. According to some economists, lawmakers and educators, it can help address the problems of rising student debt and tuition, since states have cut so much funding for higher education.

Steve Herzenberg, executive director of Pennsylvania's Keystone Research Center, believes this EARN (Economic Analysis Research Network) conference is one place to hash out the details.

"Every state is different, but all of those basic problems are common across states," Herzenberg said. "So, it makes such sense to be grappling with a new idea like 'Pay It Forward' with people from lots of different states, together."

The plan was developed by the Economic Opportunity Institute, Seattle, and the Oregon Legislature has already approved a pilot program. Herzenberg said other states are showing interest, too. At the EARN conference, they also are discussing concerns about consumer debt and low-wage jobs.

Garrett Havens, executive director of the Washington Student Association, is attending the EARN conference. In his opinion, "Pay It Forward" might not work for every person or academic major, but it shows promise for middle-class students who do not qualify for financial aid.

"These are the types of students who make up the average of $22,000 in loans that students take out here in the state of Washington. If we can come up with some kind of a program like this for them, it's really going to help them out a lot," Havens said.

The Washington Student Association has not taken an official position on "Pay It Forward," but according to Havens, they are watching it carefully and want to have input when it is introduced again in the Washington Legislature.

Conference information is available at www.earncentral.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA