(Photo Credit: Oregon State) Oregon legislators have enacted a much-needed pilot program to provide temporary relief to students attending public community colleges and state universities. Called "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back," the law, if fully implemented, will allow students to attend school for free if they agree to pay a percentage of their subsequent wages back to the state to pay off their tuition.
While this is a great first step, like many legislative initiatives, it does not address the root cause that necessitated such a drastic action - the skyrocketing cost of higher education. There are a multitude of reasons for the dramatic rise in tuition, but two major contributors come to mind: expensive (and extensive) capital improvement projects and other amenities used to lure students and large increases in administrative overhead costs.
Regardless of the causes, like the ongoing healthcare crisis, making sure everyone has access does not make it affordable. All stakeholders need to concentrate on ways to reign in tuition - and on-line courses shouldn't be the only solution. For a wonderful examination of the problem, CNN's documentary, "Ivory Tower" is a great resource.
Ironically, it is the ever-increasing cost of higher education that may help close the skill gap we are seeing in manufacturing. First, if fewer students can afford to attend a four-year university, they may see completing a two-year technical program as a less-expensive alternative. They may also realize that technical degrees and careers can be far more lucrative, thus having a higher return-on-investment: the overall tuition costs are lower; the years spent in the classroom are fewer; jobs are plentiful, and wages are higher than many positions now being filled by college graduates. But if this lack of access is what solves our skill gap, then we won't have much to celebrate.