Endorsed by students, higher ed and lending institutions alike

AUGUSTA—On Wednesday, Senate President Justin Alfond’s measure to make college more affordable and increase degree attainment for Maine students, received strong support during a public hearing in front of the Legislature’s Education Committee.

“Every year the cost of college goes up and its putting a financial burden on students and their families,” said President Alfond. “This trend of rising college costs is preventing many Maine students from completing their college degree. When students who are starting out are saddled with more debt than they can expect to make in a year, the pathway for affording college is less clear.”

The measure directs the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee to explore several options and determine the best option for Maine students that will both decrease the cost of higher education and the way college is paid for, including options that guarantee tuition, increases funding for the State of Maine Grant Program, and Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” model.

The measure received support from the Maine State Chamber, the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, the Maine Educational Loan Authority, and the Maine Youth Caucus, among others.

“I know firsthand the benefits of a strong education and believe that while college may not be for everyone, no one should miss out on this opportunity because of cost or uncertainty,” said Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, a co-sponsor of the measure, who also serves as Senate Chair of the Education Committee.

Statistics show that the average debt for Maine college students had jumped 25% since 2008 to $29,352–putting Maine at the 7th highest debt per student in the nation.

Millett added, “Many Mainers recognize the importance of a college degree in a changing, competitive 21st century economy. In the next 14 months, Maine jobs requiring postsecondary degrees are expected to grow seven times faster than jobs that do not require such qualifications. But while more jobs are requiring a college degree, financing that degree is increasingly difficult.”

L.D. 1703, “An Act to Increase College Affordability and the Rate of Degree Completion” will have its work session in the coming weeks.

“Whether the issue is income inequality, job creation, strengthening the economy, or workforce development, the nexus for each of these is degree affordability and attainment” said President Alfond in his testimony. “While it may be a heavy lift, I’m confident that we have the will and determination, and the tools and guidance, to solve this issue together–so that we can help the thousands of Mainers facing barriers to degree completion and degree affordability. The time to act is now.”