A debt-free Vermont college education? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

A debt-free Vermont college education?

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Finding success on a college campus often depends on finding a way to pay the bills.

"Tuition itself is a super big psychological and financial barrier for students to get into higher education," said John Burbank of the Economic Opportunity Institute.

It's a barrier Burbank says he's found a way to break. He's pitching a plan called Pay it Forward, where students could go to 4-year schools like Castleton or UVM without loans and no money down.

"Students do not pay tuition and the quid pro quo is that they contribute 4 percent of their income for 25 years to a public education trust fund," Burbank said.

A graduate making $30,000 a year would pay $100 a month over that period. The monthly total for someone pulling in $100,000 a year would be north of $300. The trust fund would also apply to shorter community colleges, where folks would pay back 1.5 percent of their salaries. Burbank's proposing a pilot program that would start with 1,000 students.

"This would remove that ball and chain of student debt and spread out your contribution rate over time," Burbank said.

The idea was recently pitched to Vermont lawmakers tackling education in Montpelier.

"I think it is an interesting concept, I think anything that lowers tuition for a Vermont student going to college is interesting," said Rep. Johannah Leddy Donovan, D-Burlington.

House Education Committee Chair Johannah Leddy Donovan says no immediate legislative action is in the works for "Pay It Forward."

"My understanding is that the state of Washington has a study on this endeavor, and I'll look to follow up on that before we take any more steps toward it," Leddy Donovan said.

Burbank admits the out of the box idea will take work. But he's confident it will pay off and could have some unexpected benefits like drawing more young families to the Green Mountain State.

"If you know that your child will be able to get essentially free access to public higher education, why not come to the state of Vermont and live and work in the state of Vermont?" Burbank said.

The Pay it Forward program is also being explored Oregon.

Burbank did not have a definitive answer on who would oversee the program if it eventually got off the ground in Vermont.

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