The time has come to pay it forward

Michigan House Bill 5315 is a bill that would level the playing field for people seeking a college degree.

Pay-it-Forward is an idea, which was popularized in 2000, following a movie of the same title – which I will assume, for the purposes of this column – you have already seen. If not, you can read the summary on IMDB.

The concept is simple: a person does something generous for another person, with the expectation that the recipient of the generosity goes on to do something generous for another person, who then does something generous for somebody else, and so on. Eventually a large number of people are impacted by the initial act of the first person.

House Bill 5315 in the Michigan Legislature, first introduced by Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn, is essentially a Pay-it-Forward for college students in the state.

“The goal is to remove every financial barrier to high education,” he said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press a month ago. “We’ve increasingly placed the financial burden of college on the backs of the students. This is a no-interest plan that allows you to pay back as you go and as you can afford it. It takes the monkey off the student’s back.”

If the bill is enacted, students would be required to pay a set percentage of their income at a 5:1 ratio of years paid to years attended. For community college students the rate is two percent and for university students it is five percent.

Simply put, if I graduate from Eastern Michigan University in four years with a degree, I would pay five percent of my annual income for 20 years – all to help another student earn their degree, who would in turn pay that same rate to help another student, and so on.

As it stands right now, the pilot program provided for under HB 5315 would be open to 200 students with an annual family income under $250,000.

At a time where much of the conversation is centered on minimum wage reform, I think this bill levels the playing field for those who are either currently seeking a degree, or may seek one in the future.

The way things are right now in the world of financial aid, graduates are often burdened by high interest rates as they struggle to pay off their loans once they’re done – paying back more than they take when all is said and done.

I am here at EMU because I took a chance and sought to complete my degree. Before I returned to the classroom, I spent my “career” doing oil changes and replacing tires – while it worked for many people before me and still works for some, it didn’t work for me.

Degrees open doors, and I think everyone – regardless of income should be able to have the key.

The Michigan Legislature should enact HB 5315, and I urge you to contact your elected officials in support of this bill. While I know higher education does not work for everybody, I believe people should be able to make that determination for themselves without having to worry about what comes next.

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