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‘Free’ College? Yes, Under Michigan’s Pay-It-Forward Tuition Proposal

Similar plans are being discussed in 20 other states to help students avoid some of the large loans that dog them for years and stand in the way of other financial commitments, such as paying mortgages or setting aside money for retirement.

A pay-it-forward tuition plan introduced in the Michigan Legislature would allow students to attend college for free, then pay back their tuition at a fixed percentage per year  to a special fund to help other students. (Patch file photo)
A pay-it-forward tuition plan introduced in the Michigan Legislature would allow students to attend college for free, then pay back their tuition at a fixed percentage per year to a special fund to help other students. (Patch file photo)

Michigan students would attend college for free in exchange for setting aside a fixed percentage of future income to a fund that would allow other students to do the same under a  pay-it-forward tuition plan introduced in the Legislature. 

More than 20 states are looking at similar programs, most of them in the talking phase, while the bill introduced in February would establish a pilot program seeded with $2 million from the state, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The pilot project would have room for 200 students under the plan proposed last month by Rep. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights), Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Lodge) and Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint). A hearing on their bill has not been scheduled.

Here’s how their plan would work: Community college students would pay 2 percent and university students would pay 4 percent of their post-collegiate incomes to a fund for five years for each year they attended school under the free-tuition program. That would obligate university students who graduated in four years to pay 4 percent of their income back to the pay-it-forward fund for 20 years.

“The only thing free about this is it is interest free,” Knezek told the newspaper. “You go into the program and as soon as you have a job and are above the federal poverty line, you start paying.

“The goal is to remove every financial barrier to high education,” Knezek said. “We’ve increasingly placed the financial burden of college on the backs of students. … It takes the monkey off the student’s back.”

DISCUSS: Good idea or flawed? Tell us what you think in the comments.


Frank Cusumano March 19, 2014 at 09:23 AM
PRESS RELEASE – March 18, 2014 TRUSTEE FRANK A. CUSUMANO, JR. (fn1) MACOMB COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOARD OF TRUSTEES APPROVES 3% TUITION INCREASE The Macomb Community College Board of Trustees voted last night, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, on a 3% tuition increase on the College’s students and their families. Trustees Cusumano and DeSantis voted "NO." Trustees Falcone-Sullivan, Jim Kelly, Roseanne DiMaria, and Christine Bonkowski voted "YES." Trustee Connie Bolanowski was absent. On January 13, 2013 the majority of the Board of Trustees voted in favor of a massive tuition and hourly “technology and facility” fee increase (9.6% total) for the 2013‐14 academic calendar year. I voted “no,” as did Trustee DeSantis. Union contracts were then reopened, renegotiated and ratified in a single Board vote on March 19, 2013, that included pay increases, reinstatement of step pay increases, and increases in benefits. Last night the majority of the Board voted in favor of yet another tuition hike that, again, “set the table” to not just fund out the pay increases baked into the contracts, but to generate a surplus for more generous pork. Meanwhile, student enrollment is dropping as are the total credit hours. After careful review of finances of the College, and balancing the interests of the Macomb Community and the unionized and the several non‐unionized employees at the College, I have voted “NO” to the tuition increase proposals and will do so, except where appropriate. Increasing post secondary education cost to struggling students and their families is not appropriate in order to fund out sweetheart pay raises, reinstatement of step pay increases, and benefit increases of the College’s unionized and the few non‐unionized employees. Given the past history of tuition increases — followed by pay and benefit increases — I can only conclude that the increases are, directly or indirectly, at the behest of the unions. This is a short‐sighted and a gross overreach by the unions that jeopardizes the core mission of the College. Previous increases, including tonight’s proposed 3% tuition increase for 2014‐15, are quickly followed by pay increases for the unionized College employees. The few non‐unionized employees then tag along and take their taste of pay increases. Last night, not coincidentally, the majority of the Board is also ratified yet another renegotiated union contract that includes a pay raise, reinstatement of step pay increases, and increases expenditures for union employee benefits. I voted "NO." The core mission of the College is to serve the students, and the Macomb Community, not the unions. The interests of the students and the community must be balanced with the interests of the hard working unionized employees. Of course they want more; everybody does that works for a living. It’s human nature to want more. But both sides need to be equally and fairly represented at the table in order for the system of checks and balances to work. That balance is theoretically struck by the Board of Trustees; however, I see no evidence of such a balance at the College. fn 1 The opinions expressed in this press release are the opinions of Frank A. Cusumano, Jr., and do not represent the opinions of the Macomb Community College Board of Trustees or the Macomb Community College.

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