By Jon Delano

Follow KDKA-TV: Facebook | Twitter

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — College debt plagues America.

Over 44 million Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans.

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher has a unique idea to help some Pitt students.

He calls it Panthers Forward.

Photo Credit: KDKA

“We have a pool of funding that we will award to students on a competitive basis,” Gallagher told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

“And then instead of a loan with a legal obligation to repay, they make a promise to pay it forward and to recontribute back into that fund so other students can have the same benefit.”

One hundred fifty seniors in the class of 2019 will get up to $5,000 in federal loan forgiveness in exchange for a non-binding promise to make contributions into that fund later in life so future seniors can enjoy the same benefit.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” says Samantha Walter, a Pitt junior.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” notes Jordan Parks, a Pitt senior.

I think it’s an awesome idea,” adds Emefa Akwayena, A Pitt junior.

Students like the concept, as does Gallagher.

“There’s no banks in the middle, there’s no institution in the middle, there’s no interest rates, there’s no credit risk,” says Gallagher.

Recent alumnus Pat O’donnell is working with Pitt to set up the program.

“Students who graduate from universities are forced to make life-changing decisions based on their financial situations,” says O’Donnell.

“This is a program that I think gives us a chance to take a step back.”

Everybody likes the idea of the University of Pittsburgh paying off up to $5,000 in federal loan debt for 150 students.

But the real question is, will these students pay it forward in the future?

Selecting which senior gets the money is critical, and a key criterion is involvement in and commitment to Pitt.

“If someone is doing like a lot of extracurricular activities, they are probably going to be more involved with Pitt, and they’re going to be more inclined to donate back in the future,” says Parks.

Gallagher is not worried about the payback.

“We think a lot of people will pay it forward because they want to. They see the value of supporting students who were just like them.”

Seniors have until the end of October to apply for the loan forgiveness program.