Michigan’s ‘free’ college plan is nothing new

By Isabelle Cavazos, CORRESPONDENT
On March 26, 2014

 

Many college students do not have to be asked twice about whether they want fewer expenses. The opportunity to cut costs is welcomed at any level from taking advantage of a student discount when buying dinner to advocating for free textbooks.

The Michigan Legislature is pushing this even further by trying to make the fantasy of “free” college a reality for the state’s students.

The plan — which will be called the “pay it forward” system if passed — would allow students to attend school at no cost by using interest-free loans. Students would later pay a fixed percentage of their income when employed post-graduation to cover the tuition costs of future students.

Though it seems like a sensible idea, it might not actually improve the financial situation for students.

In order to “pay it forward,” each year a student is in college, a percentage of the student’s income will be deducted for five years, which could amount to around 20 years of payments for a four-year degree.

However, the plan’s repayment time is almost identical to the amount of time it takes for a student to pay back loans, since the average borrower with a bachelor’s degree completes payments within almost 20 years, according to a survey by the One Wisconsin Institute.

Even though the plan sounds like a fair way to combat the nationally rising cost of tuition and fees at public institutions, it may disproportionally cause graduates who earn more to pay for more that what they paid when they attended, and those who earn less to pay less.

This is a popular concern — despite the $2 million the state is funding for the 200-student pilot program.

Though a University of Michigan professor suggested this issue could easily be handled by basing the amount a student owes on dollars rather than a fixed percentage, balance in the plan should already exist.

Furthermore, in a time when the Federal Reserve Bank of New York confirms that college graduates are having a more difficult time finding jobs, it is safe to assume the amount of time it could take for future graduates to make their payments will be prolonged.

Since employment is also a problem with repaying student loan debt, some students might be left wondering how this plan differs from taking out loans
during college.

The only notable difference seems to be when a student is required to make payments.

While this curbs the immediate financial burden, it does not necessarily change the cost of tuition or make college “free.”

Though 20 other states are contemplating such plans, as stated in an article by the Detroit Free Press, it is more of a neutrally beneficial plan than one that should be quickly applauded.

Isabelle Cavazos is a sophomore majoring in English.

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