Paying it Forward: Free College? They’re considering it in New Jersey.

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Paying It Forward
Thomas Edison in his Menlo Park New Jersey laboratory in 1901

GOOD IDEAS ROM NEW JERSEY? These days, news headlines and popular culture question how much good can come from the “Garden State.” A century ago, New Jersey was the home of the Wizard of Menlo Park, the name of Thomas Edison’s groundbreaking New Jersey laboratory.

Paying it forward requires an element of faith—confidence that the recipient will continue the pay-it-forward chain. Often, paying it forward is low risk, such as the long pay-it-forward chains at some cafés. The risk is only the price of a cup of coffee.

What would happen if we tried to “pay it forward” for much, much bigger parts of life?

Officials in New Jersey are thinking of doing that for college tuition. Going to college is so expensive that many students can’t afford to go. To lower costs, a task force in the Garden State is considering offering “free” tuition—that is, if students agree later on to turn a portion of their earnings over as payment for their education. (The website reports on the task force studying this idea.)

A task force will look at various ways to make college more affordable, including: “The creation of a Pay It Forward Pilot Program which would replace the current system of charging students tuition and fees for enrollment at public institutions of higher education and allow students to instead pay back a percentage of their income for a certain number of years.”

To work, New Jersey is betting that students would earn enough to make the system viable. In essence, one generation of college grads would be paying it forward to another generation. But those are very high stakes for this idea.

What do you make of New Jersey’s gamble?

Do you think the principle of paying it forward can make college more affordable?

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