Pay It Forward bill signed into law

By Alex Swanson

Students at the University of Illinois come from all over. They have different skin colors, practice different religions, or none at all, and speak various languages. But the University isn’t always inclusive of all socio-economic statuses. 

However, the Pay it Forward, Pay it Back bill was signed into law recently, and it aims to make college more accessible to people from all financial situations — something that we think is a step in the right direction.   

Low-income students are less likely to attend stronger academic institutions, and the graduates from the stronger academic institutions are more likely to have success. The current lack of affordable college tuition cuts out low-income students, and the debt acquired post-graduation discourages many students.

More than half of students who graduate from the University have student debt, owing, on average, $24,507 when they walk across the stage. Ten years ago, only 48 percent of students graduated with debt, owing just $13,494 on graduation. Across the nation, it’s even worse. Seventy-one percent of students graduate with debt, owing $29,400 on graduation. Clearly, this is a major issue for students and deters many from attending college in the first place.

On Aug. 15, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Pay It Forward, Pay It Back bill into law. The bill charges the Illinois Student Assistance Commission with investigating the Pay It Forward system in Pennsylvania that allows students to attend college on scholarship now, and then pay the University later. 

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The program differs from student loans because no one would pay for college up front. Instead, they would pay back a part of their salary for years to come, giving the University a consistent income, while not burdening those who don’t have money up front.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state with a system like this. Oregon also has a similar program, as well as the country of Australia, which demonstrates that this system is catching on across borders. 

In passing this bill, Gov. Quinn shows that he knows the current system of higher education is not working for everyone, and he is looking at alternatives to help include those students who are left behind for financial reasons.

This program may be the answer. It may not. But what’s important is that Illinois’ legislators recognize a need for a change in the way higher education is structured and are open to changing it. Poor and working class students cannot continue to be left behind.

Alex can be reached at [email protected].