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Taxation with Representation

Replacing student payments to universities with increased state taxes on the individual level for a fixed period of time.

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Students who want access to an affordable education and want to attend public state universities (or community colleges, etc.)

With the current system of paying for college, students are responsible for paying the full cost up front, regardless of if they have to take out loans or work part-time to make it happen. In the research phase, a lot of the contributions I saw were related to shifting the cost of college to a different party. With this in mind, I thought about some of the basic assumptions we hold about how college is paid for, the biggest being that college is paid for up front as a lump sum over 4 years (true even if you're paying off loans into the future). Examining this idea, I decided to try to "escape" from it: I thought, what if college was paid for over time as a percentage of post-graduate income rather than as a lump sum due up front?

In the status quo, universities charge students for tuition and associated costs and students pay the universities the total amount (minus scholarships or other university-appointed cost discounts). I think an interesting idea would be to shift the payment cycle in a different direction. In this new cycle, states would fully fund public colleges in that state and be responsible for all of the costs that it would otherwise be charging students. Once graduating, state income taxes would be raised on these graduates and they would pay a higher percentage of their income to the state. This increase in income tax would be the funding that the state uses to pay the colleges.

With this idea, students wouldn't be responsible for paying huge costs up front, or being stuck with interest-accumulating student loans for decades after graduation. Instead, post-grad students would pay a variable percentage of their income to the state every year. Because students that graduate college are more likely to be employed and have higher incomes than non-college graduates, they would be able to afford higher income taxes, leaving them with enough of their salary to still afford everything they need to begin their professional careers. In this way, students are only responsible to pay for college once they have a job that provides them with a salary. In addition, because some students will make more out of college than others, students with lower incomes will pay a lower amount per year to the state for a longer period of time until their education is paid off (say, 10 years), while students with higher incomes will pay a higher amount per year for a shorter amount of time (say, 7 years) until the cost is paid off.

With this system, students would be able to defer the cost of their education until after they graduate and have a job. They will also be able to pay the costs out over time without racking up interest payments that can potentially double the total cost of college overall in the long run. Because up-front payments of thousands of dollars are very difficult for many families, especially lower-income families, to afford, this would play a major role in lowering barriers to entry for college and making it more accessible. 

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I could see what percentage of students take out loans to pay for college and how long they think it will take them to pay off the entirety of their loans. From there, I could have them approximate their income upon graduation, and subsequent income taxes, and compare their current status with my proposed idea.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

The most helpful guidance would be financial analysis of this idea to test its feasibility and scalability. Because states have differing amounts of income tax, many calculations would be needed to see how this idea would vary from region to region.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Michael Dawson

This is an excellent idea, but how do you ensure that a person does not become a professional student, going to classes his entire life without paying back his educational expenses?  Should there be a limit to how many years of education that can be provided?  

Also, how would the procedure work in practice?  Would we need to increase bureaucracy and the amount of forms required for completing taxes?  It would be politically difficult to argue that a more complicated tax structure is required.  

Lastly, Florida, Texas, Nevada, Washington, South Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska do not have state income taxes.  How would this plan be implemented in states without such taxes?

Is there the possibility of doing this on the federal, rather than state level?  While education has historically been provided at the state level, funding in the form of student loans has been done at the federal level, so there is precedent.  It would be politically difficult to enact laws on the federal level that increased the scope of the federal government, but this kind of idea wouldn't be done in 1 or 2 years, anyway.

Photo of Swapna Bellare Balsekar

these are some great questions and realistic too! I think by selecting a state where the pilot can be launched is must. It will help to see the scale-ability of the concept. 

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