By Robert Kittle
One of the bills prefiled in the South Carolina House would let state residents go to a public college without paying tuition or fees, instead signing a contract to repay them after graduation.
The advantage of that over student loans is that students wouldn't have to pay interest, according to bill sponsor Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston. He says the bill's goal is to allow more students to go to college without having to worry so much about how to pay for it.
Marquia Edwards, a sophomore at USC who's paying for school with student loans, likes the idea. "For me, it's going to be something difficult to get out of college and first start having to pay the student loans and then you have to add on interest, and at that time you're just getting started, trying to get settled. So money will be a big issue. So having to do that and not having to worry about interest would be something that I would love."
The bill would have the state Commission on Higher Education create the Palmetto Pay Forward, Pay Back Pilot Program by December 1, 2015. State lawmakers would then have to approve details of the pilot program. Oregon has already passed a similar law and is in the process of setting up its own pilot program.
Julie Carullo, deputy director for administration at the state Commission on Higher Education, says, "It's an interesting concept. There are issues with how much it would cost upfront to provide for the tuition and fee payments as they're foregone by the students until they pay them back later. So those would all be things that would have to be studied."
The bill says the state would have to establish a funding source for the first 15 to 20 years of the program while students are not paying tuition and fees and until the repayments start accumulating. Rep. Limehouse says he hasn't identified a funding source and doesn't know how much would be needed, but says lottery funds could be a place to start.
The bill does not identify which state colleges or universities would be involved in the pilot program. That's something the Commission on Higher Education would decide, along with how many years the graduates would have to pay back their tuition and fees and what percentage of their incomes would be required.
Edwards, who's majoring in nursing, says, "I think it would help a lot more students, because it would help students get an idea that they would be able to actually go to school without having to worry about the money issue until they graduate. And once they graduate they'll have a degree and they'll be able to get a job."