‘Pay It Forward’ works for Minn.

The “Pay It Forward” model isn’t a universal solution, but it has the potential for success.

by Luis Ruuska

I wrote a column on Oregon’s revolutionary “Pay It Forward” program for college students back in September after Oregon’s Legislature approved a pilot test of it. While the model may be a pipe dream for some states, another state has caught the “Pay It Forward” bug.

A bill is moving through the Michigan Legislature that would also institute a pilot test of the “Pay It Forward” model in the state. More than 20 states are looking at this model, but pilot programs are rare.

In summary, the program’s main objective is to allow students to attend school tuition-free.

The process runs on post-graduate salaries through small, fixed-percentage payments to a common education fund, which in turn guarantees a free education and zero loan debt for future students.

The program eliminates the need for high-interest student loans that often take far too long to pay off. Loan payments are also likely higher than the 3 percent monthly expense that graduates with a bachelor’s degree would pay under a “Pay It Forward” plan.

Though the results of Oregon’s pilot program — and potentially Michigan’s — won’t be available for a number of years, I believe both states will see successful outcomes.

The “Pay It Forward” model’s success ultimately rests on the ability of a state’s education system to produce employable graduates.

Ideally, graduates would earn higher wages with their degrees in hand and be able to contribute more money back into the mass education fund.

The “Pay It Forward” model puts pressure on a state’s education system to truly invest in the education and the success of its students so that those students can pay it back into the system.

Additionally, the “Pay It Forward” model could see greater success in states where unemployment is low, the job market is growing and there are high-profile companies — states like Minnesota.

In 2013, Minnesota was home to the headquarters of 19 Fortune 500 companies, which ties Michigan for ninth place among states with the most of these large companies.

These include familiar national powerhouses such as Target Corporation, UnitedHealth Group and Best Buy.

Additionally, Minnesota cities including Mankato, Rochester and the Twin Cities boast some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Because of its healthy economy and competitive job market, Minnesota could be a great candidate for a “Pay It Forward” program, as would many other states with similar economies and successful higher education systems.

However, if graduates can’t find employment after graduation, there’s no money to go toward the collective fund. Then the whole system fails.

Clearly, the “Pay It Forward” model is not a universal solution. It would likely even hurt states with lower-quality higher education systems and stagnant economies more than it would help them.

For these states, other solutions are necessary. The reality is that there is no magic bullet for higher education reform.

States should consider the message of the “Pay It Forward” model in future higher education reform. Investing in students and their education isn’t just an investment in any one person; it’s an investment in a better future for everyone.