'Pay It Forward' and Higher Education Subsidies: A Theoretical Model

34 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2014 Last revised: 17 Jan 2015

See all articles by Jennifer Delaney

Jennifer Delaney

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Dhammika Dharmapala

University of Chicago Law School; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: January 11, 2015


Since 2013, more than 20 states have considered legislation on Pay It Forward (PIF) models of higher education finance (which enable students to pay the price of college upon departure from an institution, as opposed to paying upfront tuition). This paper proposes a theoretical model of PIF policies within a framework in which voters belonging to different income groups vote over the level of subsidies to higher education. We analyze the impact of two facets of potential PIF policies – a deferred tuition approach and an income share approach – on college access and on voting equilibria over subsidies levels. The results show that college access is enhanced by PIF policies. The equilibrium level of subsidies depends crucially on the pattern of income distribution, in particular on the relationship between mean income and the income of the median income group. We show that the equilibrium level of subsidies to higher education will not necessarily decline under PIF, and may increase in some equilibria due to changes in college access for low income groups. We also present a descriptive cross-country empirical analysis showing that there are higher levels of access to college credentials in countries with deferred tuition systems.

Keywords: Higher education finance; political economy

JEL Classification: I22, I28

Suggested Citation

Delaney, Jennifer and Dharmapala, Dhammika, 'Pay It Forward' and Higher Education Subsidies: A Theoretical Model (January 11, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2518248 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2518248

Jennifer Delaney

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign ( email )

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United States

Dhammika Dharmapala (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

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CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute) ( email )

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European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

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