It's still debt: Michigan's pay-it-forward tuition plan

Have you heard about the so-called "pay-it-forward" legislative proposal for helping Michigan students obtain a college degree?  The premise (and the promise) is that low and middle-income students in the program would get to attend college for "free" and then once they have a job after graduating they would pay a certain percentage of their salary for a designated number of years.  If their salary goes up, the amount they pay goes up and vice versa.

Hmm... go to college without paying out of pocket now and then make payments for that college education later.  That sounds an awful lot like a student loan to me - except it's a student loan without a set dollar amount that you are borrowing.  If you make more money, you pay more for your degree.  And it seems like you probably can't pay it back early and will be stuck with 20 years of payments.

If you are an engineering student, do you think it is fair that you may end up paying substantially more for your degree than a liberal arts major even though the sticker price of your degrees may be the same when you both enroll at the same school?  If you don't think it's fair, would you even sign up for the program?  What happens to the solvency of the program if a lot of participants decide to become a stay-at-home parent and exit the work force?

This sounds like a good intentioned, but poorly thought out piece of legislation.  College costs are high, but telling students they can go to school for "free" with a program like this is misleading and not a good financial deal for students or the state.

Do you disagree?  Am I missing a key upside here?