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Could free college tuition be coming to California?

Daily Ticker

With student debt totaling more than $1 trillion and college costs continuing to rise, going to college can become more of a burden than an opportunity in some cases.

Related: Exploding student loan debt threatens the housing recovery

Neel Kashkari, former PIMCO executive and assistant U.S. treasury secretary, is running for governor in California and is proposing a novel solution if he wins: free college tuition (to public schools in the state) for majors in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

He explains in the interview above that right now some kids are taking out huge student loans for college. If they get a good job, paying back the loans is manageable, but with a low salary, that loan can be a huge burden because it's a fixed amount.

Kashkari proposes customizing a program that's in the pilot phase in Oregon --  the state pays tution and students pay two or three percent of their salaries back for the next 20 years. Kashkari would adjust the plan to focus on STEM fields. 

Related: Do parents 'owe' their children a college education?

"We need more scientists and engingeers in California," he says in the video above. "I want to encourage as many young people to pursue [these fields]. I think it’s good for them, the state and the taxpayers."

Related: Your chance of success will be higher if you’re born here

While Kashkari says there are lot of details to work out and negotiate, one question is why students would enroll in such a plan if they are already majoring in fields where they will graduate to better job prospects and higher paying positions.

"A lot of lower-income Americans are not applying to college because they are afraid of taking out huge loans and that becomes a barrier to them pursuing their higher education," he says, adding that this program takes away that barrier and makes it easier for students to pursue degrees. "That’s my dream as a policymaker." 

Kashkari acknowledges there is "no one silver bullet" when it comes to addressing the challenges of higher education and he's also working on putting more courses online to broaden the amount of people who can access college while lowering costs and maintaining quality control.

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