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A Future With Zero Education Debt: Are Zero Education Debt Agreements Viable?

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A Future With Zero Education Debt:Are Zero Education Debt Agreements Viable?Our national higher education finance system is built around the student loan. This year, the federal government issued over 20 million new student loans, and there is no indication that this number will drop moving forward. Approximately 6.5 million students are currently in default on their federal student loans and the combined debts of all students participating in the program now totals more than $1 trillion.Loans, however, are only one of many ways of financing higher education -- as a group of Oregon students recently pointed out. Their 'Pay it Forward' plan, which captured national attention, offered free tuition to all, with students promising to pay back a percentage of their earnings over a set number of years. The idea is to reduce risk: if you earn more in the future, you pay more; if you earn less, you pay less; and if you earn nothing, you pay nothing. They argued that system would be fairer, end the scourge of loan defaults, and ask more from those who gain the most from college.Critics, on the other hand, wonder about the real costs of the program -- and whether either a public or private sector funding model that eliminates loans would create the kind of results that Zero Education Debt proponents envisage. Will students end up paying more than they do now? Do these approaches only further encourage public divestment from higher education? Are private sector solutions, some of which are already operating in the market, a better approach than the public funding model being contemplated in Oregon? Are these various plans viable when scaled?Michelle Asha CooperPresident, Institute for Higher Education PolicyRohit ChopraAssistant Director, Consumer Financial Protection BureauAlex HoltProgram Associate, New America FoundationMiguel PalaciosCo-Founder, Lumni Inc.Assistant Professor of Finance, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt UniversityModeratorZakiya SmithStrategy Director, Lumina Foundation

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