Davies weighs in on concept

By Dick Mason, The Observer July 24, 2013 10:19 am
The concept would be a groundbreaking one and it has Eastern Oregon University President Bob Davies thinking philosophically.

The Legislature recently voted to explore the “Pay It Forward’’ concept for college tuition. Through it students would go to one of the state’s four-year universities for free and then pay for it with a percentage of their salary for the next 20 to 25 years. 

Davies is open to the concept.

“I think new ideas always need to be looked at,” the Eastern president said.

Davies, however, believes that before the state moves down this road it needs to answer the following questions.

“Who benefits from public higher education? Is it a public benefit or a private benefit or a combination thereof?” Davies asked.

This leads to a second general question, the EOU president said. 

“Who should pay? The student and his or her family or the public or what is the appropriate combination?” Davies said.

Should the state agree to pursue “Pay it Forward’’ after studying it, it would essentially be saying it believes that the benefits higher education provides are primarily private.

“(Pay It Forward) would tie directly what you pay for higher education to what your salary is as a result of higher education,” Davies said. 

This concerns Davies, who said it is important to remember that not all benefits of higher education are measurable. 

“Higher education is not just about a job and a higher salary. It is also about contributing to society as volunteers and through philanthropic offerings,” Davies said.

The EOU president noted that studies show that college graduates tend to do more community service work and donate more to philanthropic causes.

Davies said adhering to the belief that a college education benefits only the student and not society would be a mistake. He cited a quote from Thomas Jefferson to make his point.

“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

The EOU president said “Pay It Forward” would essentially be income taxation.

“It would be a tax. It would be an interesting way to fund higher education,” Davies said.

“Pay It Forward” was tried in Australia more than a decade ago and had some glitches, including graduates of state colleges and universities finding ways to avoid paying the percentage of their income they were supposed to pay for tuition. The tax code allowed some to take so many income deductions they ended up paying much smaller amounts for tuition than they should have.

“There were some loopholes people used,” Davies said. 

Davies believes that talking about “Paying It Forward” could spark discussions that could lead to steps that would make tuition more affordable.

“Whenever there are talks about funding higher education, I’m eager to be a part of the discussion. Do I think (Pay It Forward) would be a silver bullet for higher education? No,” Davies said. “Do I think this will open doors for further discussions about new ideas to make higher education accessible and affordable? Absolutely.”

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