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Our View: Support for college loan study

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:17 a.m. CDT

New legislation filed by state Rep. Jack Franks would authorize the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to study a change in the way students pay for their college education.

Similar to legislation that has been filed in more than a dozen other states, the study would determine the financial feasibility of a “Pay It Forward” program, in which students attend college for free but pay for it after graduation in the form of a small, fixed percentage of their income. Repayment amounts could change as one’s earnings change.

We support the study.

Families with children in, approaching or already having graduated college know exactly how expensive higher education is. Most have to take out hefty loans that start coming due shortly after graduation, whether the student has a job or not.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, there are about 37 million student loan borrowers with outstanding student loans today, amounting to between $902 billion and $1 trillion in total outstanding debt burden. The national average for student loan debt is $29,400. In Illinois, it’s $28,028.

Some are predicting that a massive defaulting of student loans is the next big threat to the U.S. economy. Such debt also has a domino effect on the economy as a whole. If you can barely afford to repay your student loan, how are you going to buy a car, eat at restaurants or spend money elsewhere.

How to pay for the “Pay It Forward” program – so-called because students would benefit up front, then “pay it forward” for those who come after – will be key to the study. University professors and other staff need to be paid. Infrastructure needs to be maintained.

“That was my issue; I wasn’t sure how to pay for it,” said Franks, D-Marengo.

Franks’ bill passed the House unanimously and now is in the Senate. If it passes, Franks thinks the study can be completed by December.

If a reasonable recommendation comes from the study, Franks proposes Illinois conduct a pilot program with community colleges first.

“Then, once we find out how it works, we take it to our four-year universities,” he said.

We’re not sure what the study will find. But we hope the Senate approves the legislation so the study can take place.

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