A brief history of our campaign to end student debt

July 5th, 2013 by shughes

PSU students and Oregon Working Families present their proposal to Oregon legislators on campus.

In the fall of 2012, a group of Portland State University students joined forces with Oregon Working Families and Jubilee USA to study the issue of student debt and to explore solutions to  this problem that is quickly taking on crisis proportions.

The students settled on a creative, state-based solution pioneered by the Economic Opportunity Institute out of Seattle.  The plan, sometimes referred to as “Pay it Forward,” would lead to a system of debt free higher education for students at Oregon public colleges and universities and presented their research to a panel of legislators.

From an idea to advocacy

Later, the Oregon Working Families Party moved the issue of student debt and the “Pay it Forward” proposal to the top of its electoral and legislative agendas.  Candidates were asked to to stake out their position on student debt as a requirement for receiving the cross-nomination of the WFP in the election.

The WFP met with allies such as the Oregon Student Association, and leaders from within the university system, and the State Treasurer.  By the time the the legislative session started, we were ready to begin an aggressive push to pass legislation (HB 3472) aimed at taking the first step toward creating a system of debt free higher education in the state.

Victory!

State Representatives Dembrow and Gorsek (left and third from left) join student Ariel Gruver and Senator Jeff Merkley to discuss student debt crisis.

On July 1st, the Oregon legislature voted unanimously to pass HB 3472, officially launching the state down a new path in how it thinks about funding higher education and dealing with the student debt crisis.

Oregon as a national model?

Something about the stirrings in Oregon have hit a national nerve, because the media response to the passage of HB 3472 has been overwhelming.  The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, ABC News all covered the story.  The Associated Press ran a story which got picked up in almost 130 press outlets around the country including The Huffington Post, the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report…to name a few.

People around the country are taking notice of what is going on in Oregon.  When students everywhere are staring down the barrel of tens of thousands of dollars of bank debt just to get a basic education, is it any wonder there is a hunger for a solution?

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