AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Two top legislators -- one Democrat and one Republican -- are asking the state to try a new idea for reducing the cost of a college education.
Students graduating with four year degrees are often facing twenty or thirty thousand dollars in debt, and the President of the Maine Community College System says it is scaring a lot of people away from even going to college. John Fitzsimmons says Maine already has the lowest college graduation rate in New England, and that cost is the major reason.
Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) and Assistant Republican leader Roger Katz (R-Augusta) have each sponsored bills to study an idea from the state of Oregon, called "Pay It Forward, Pay It Back". The idea is to let Maine students go to an in-state college or University tuition free, and have them sign a contract to pay the state back over twenty years, once they graduate. Students would also have to agree to live in Maine for a certain number of years after graduating. The Senators say several other states are studying the same idea, and think it could offer a way to get more people to afford higher education.
College and university administrators told the Education Committee there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the Pay It Forward idea, but they and legislators agreed the biggest issue would still be money. The state would need to find a substantial amount of money to pay for such a program before there would be enough coming in from graduates to pay for it. Community College System Fitzsimmons suggested it would be "hundreds of millions of dollars". Katz and Alfond agreed finding that much money would be a challenge, but said the state might be able to borrow it, or dins a group of banks to make the up-front investment.
The proposals only call for a study of the idea. Alfond's bill also asks to study a number of other suggestio9ns for dealing with rising student debt. Alfond told the committee Maine's average student debt is more than $29,000 per graduate, seventh highest in the country. He said this comes at a time when state needs to find ways to get more people to graduate from college, to expand the workforce.
According to the Finance Authority of Maine, which manages student loan programs, there are more than 40,000 Maine students attending the state's public colleges and universities. The approximate number includes:
Maine Community College system - 16,900
University of Maine system - 22,700
Maine Maritime Academy - 540