Another State Takes a Crack at Helping Poor Kids Get into College

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University students walking on campus, rear view
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While many college-bound students and their families have been keeping an eye on Washington, desperately hoping President Obama or someone in Congress would concoct a solid plan to decisively remedy our massive student loan/student debt crisis, a handful of states have been offering truly innovative solutions to the problem.

A few months ago, I wrote about Pay It Forward, Oregon's groundbreaking plan that would allow high school graduates to attend college for free. In return, these students would pay a portion of their income back into the fund for 20 years. The plan, which echoes California's proposed FixUC, could fundamentally change the way schools, families and communities approach higher ed. In the beginning, Pay It Forward will only be implemented at a few Oregon schools, but the state hopes to broadly expand the program over the next several years.

In the meantime, another state has offered its own modest proposal for changing the face of higher education. On Wednesday, Delaware's Gov. Jack Markell announced that his state would send application fee waivers to every high-achieving, low-income student in the state.

At first flush, this seems to be a relatively small-potatoes idea. To begin with, as David Leonhardt pointed out in The New York Times, Delaware's little: It has roughly 9,000 high school seniors, only about 380 of whom would qualify for the program. And the sums under discussion also aren't that high -- the average college application fee is $37.88. But if your family is on a tight budget, that fee may be money you you can ill-afford to spend.

On another level, however, Delaware's plan could be highly significant. To begin with, it surgically targets the group of students who are most in need of help, who are most likely to benefit from it -- and who are most at risk of not getting a college degree. Numerous studies have highlighted the dearth of lower-income students at America's top-tier universities. And, as a recent Brookings report put it, their absence cuts both ways: "[T]here are missed opportunities in both directions: few if any of these students consider selective colleges, and selective colleges in turn miss them."

In addition to paying those application fees, Delaware is one of three states that cover the cost of the SATs for all seniors, and it is also providing a great deal of college guidance to all of its students, including materials about scholarships and information about how to research colleges. The ultimate goal, as Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy recently pointed out, is to offer a "robust plan" to improve college access.

As always when anyone proposes using taxpayer money for a new program, some will question the cost. But, as some states have noted, students often choose to stay in the states where they graduated from college -- especially if those states indicate a tendency toward economic innovation. By focusing on educating their brightest students (as Delaware is doing), and encouraging the country's best students to come to their colleges (as Oregon's plan would do), states could be setting themselves up for a long-term brain gain. And, in the end, that could be the best investment they can make.



Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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22 Comments

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hugh_geenormous

State solutions instead of top down one size fits all authoritarian big central government plans that nationalize personal student debt.

Now, what do we do about the skyrocketing tuition?

September 24 2013 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
robrtl

i applaud the idea that those who will benifit from college may go to college .. i abhor the idea that eberyone will benefit from college

September 23 2013 at 6:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rovpoolman

Too bad those lib professors don\'t work for less!

September 23 2013 at 5:35 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rovpoolman's comment
Drew

If teachers have it so good....why aren't you a teacher....lack of education maybe??

September 23 2013 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
analyst0042

Let me guess...ancestry from another continent with a country who was once headed by a famous person whose last name sounds a little like man dealer.

September 22 2013 at 5:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hsstempe

HOW ABOUT SIGNATURE LOANS WITH ZERO COLLARTERAL LIKE EVERONE ELSE...IE ....THE MIDDLE CLASS WHICH OF COURSE NO LONGER EXISTS. THEN THEY CAN PAY IT BACK UNTIL HELL FREEZE OVER JUST LIKE THE REST OF WHO HAVE CREDITIALS AND NO WORK. HOW ABOUT LOOKING AT CORPS WHO TOOK EMPLOYEES TO 25 HOURS BECAUSE OF DUMB ASS CARE SO THEY DONT PAY INS. HOW ABOUT HAVING TO TAKE 2 AND 3 JOBS TO PAY THE BILLS. NICE GOING TO ALL POLITICIANS. DOES IT OCCUR TO PEOPLE WHEN HOME DEPOT PUTS MOST ON 25 HOURS A WEEK AND MULTIPLY THAT TIMES HOW MANY CORPS THAT THE EXTRA LEFT OVER MONEY FROM NO BENEFITS GOES TO CORP PROFITS AND THAT TRANSLATES INTO FEEDING THE STOCKHOLDERS WHO ARE NOT EXACTLY ALL DEMOCRAPS

September 22 2013 at 1:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
beachhobo

rather than trying to get kids in college to take politiical science and some of those programs why not try trade schools ie tool and die , electrical. plumbing, entry level engineering. we dont need more leeches, we need more doers. we have enough bosses.

September 22 2013 at 11:22 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to beachhobo's comment
UCrazy99

Why do you assume these students are going to be taking political science?

September 23 2013 at 9:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Drew

I don't know where you get your info from buddy....I am a construction worker who went back to school to work on an engineering degree and saw LOTS of smart kids taking lots of science and math classes...I don't think I met 3 poly-sci majors in my entire time in college....and why would you want to dumb down the population?? Do you really think a less intelligent population will succeed in todays global economy??
To put it in construction terms, if everybody is a laborer, then who will do the electrical work???

September 23 2013 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
prnyl

Let's get smart and start triaging those technically oriented students to tech schools and not try to force feed them into the ideological university education all academicians need to keep their tenure secure.

September 22 2013 at 10:46 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to prnyl's comment
Drew

Ummmm.....in NJ we already do....at the high school level.....
BTW....I know you don't want to believe it, but most professors are adjuncts who make very little salary, and no benefits = no tenure.....

September 23 2013 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nbrten

The beginning of the second paragraph in the above article begins with this statement.......

"A few months ago, I wrote about Pay It Forward, Oregon's groundbreaking plan that would allow high school graduates to attend college for free. In return, these students would pay a portion of their income back into the fund for 20 years."

A huge percentage of kids graduating from college today can't even find a job, so would someone explain to me how this system is going to work? Many of those who do find jobs are making around $30,000+ per year. Isn't this program basically just a 20 year student loan? What happens in this program if the student attends college for two years, then drops out? What's the interest rate students will be paying for this? Whatever happened to Pell Grants, etc.? A program like this has so many potential pitfalls and avenues for abuse, it's unbelievable.
Why not just give student loans which, if paid off within a certain number of years, are interest free?

September 22 2013 at 8:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nbrten's comment
setanta54s_back

uuuuuuuuuh whO gets a pell grant CAPABLE of doing more than giving basically 250 a year ?

September 22 2013 at 10:30 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Peter

This num head forkliftman what an idiot you really sound like u came from a poor ignorant back ground and u don t even no it how ignorant what did u learn in what ever school u say u went too? bigotry racism ignorants all the above and for the rest of u for not saying anything about his comments shame on u u have to stand tall against people like this guy people like him are a dime a dozen and u yourselves are on their lists

September 22 2013 at 3:19 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Peter's comment
nbrten

Wow, Peter. Where did you get your education? Or, I should say, lack of an education.

September 22 2013 at 8:45 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
kimmik

Peter, where you learn to write sentences?

September 22 2013 at 1:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kimmik's comment
Drew

In all honesty, he wrote no worse than Forklift gumby boy......

September 23 2013 at 12:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
zygi & paris

Making it hard for young people trying to get an education, only ensures that our future generation will be incredibly stupid, like our government.

September 21 2013 at 11:56 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply