Before we assess its viability, let’s take a moment to appreciate the premise of the pay-it-forward tuition plan: The chance to attend college for free.
The idea bears a resonance that is nearly deafening — to students burdened with the soaring cost of college tuition and student loan debt and parents who often share that liability.
Nothing is free, of course. But a plan introduced in the Michigan Legislature proposes to change the way students and parents pay for college education in a way that could be considered revolutionary.
Its author, state Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, wants students to attend college without paying its costs until they graduate. They must agree to pay part of their post-graduate income to a special fund that covers college costs for other students.
The formula would be five years for each year they attend college. University grads would pay 4 percent of their income for 20 years. Community college grads would pay 2 percent for 10 years.
“The goal is to remove every financial barrier to higher education,” Knezek said.
If his idea works, it could deliver a tremendous measure of relief to students and their families. College cost increases since 2000 have consistently surpassed the inflation rate. The average student debt load was $29,400 in 2012.
At least 20 states are exploring pay-it-forward, but Michigan would be the first to give it a try. The pilot plan would set up a $2 million fund for 200 students, whose annual household income is below $250,000.
A leading challenge, though, is buy-in. A graduate who lands a job with a six-figure income might pass on the program because he or she would repay far more than a graduate who earns significantly less.
If it’s approved, the pilot program would have to work out such problems.
But its appeal is difficult to overstate. With it, the cost of a college would receive tangible relief.
— TIMES HERALD (PORT HURON)