A new law will require Maine to investigate the state’s student loan debt burden.
Democratic Governor Janet Mills has signed a bill that will reinstate the College Affordability and Graduation Commission that convened earlier in 2014 Models Are Best For Non-Traditional Students And What The Average Student Debt Is, graduating from Maine colleges and universities. It also examines the potential impact of free community college programs.
Braunschweig-based Democratic Senator Mattie Daughtry, the former co-chair of the commission and sponsor of the latest bill, says the commission will also look into the barriers facing students who fail to graduate.
“What’s the barrier for people who might have a few college courses but don’t have the qualifications?” Daughter says. “They put in the time, they may pay the debt, but they don’t have the benefit of ending their program.”
The commission produced a 2014 report, and Sam Warren, director of government and community relations for the University of Maine system, says many of the recommendations in that report have finally been implemented.
“[The 2014 report] Really had staying power and shaped the discussion in the State House and beyond for the past seven years about how we can advance affordability and graduation, “says Warren.” Thanks to the suggestion of Governor Mills and the Legislative support, our systems are able to keep tuition fees in check for the coming academic year to help families and students overcome the pandemic. “
However, Daughtry says she and other lawmakers wanted to top up the commission “because a lot has changed since 2014”.
Warren says a number of the priorities the University of Maine system now has in addition to other post-secondary institutions in the state were not on the mind of the 2014 commission.
“And they’re a really big part of our strategy now to improve college access and affordability,” Warren says. “For example, in 2014 the commission really didn’t focus on adult learners, but within the University of Maine system that’s about a third of our student population and it’s growing.”
Daughtry says they will add a high school advisor to the commission as well.
“We want to speak to someone who is on site doing this work with our students and really let their personal experience and narrative flow into the process, because there is no single law or single thing that absolutely reverses student debt can do. And it really takes teamwork, ”says Daughtry.
Maine has the sixth highest average student debt in the country – with Mainers borrowing more than $ 33,000 on average. Americans’ total debt grew to $ 1.7 trillion in 2021.
Despite these numbers, Warren hopes this next iteration will help the Commission Mainers realize that affordable higher education is achievable.
“It really gives us an opportunity to dispel some of the myths about college affordability. I think people hear the national narrative about student debt and think that this may not be within their reach,” Warren says. “No matter who you are, no matter where you live, here in Maine there is a path for you to a meaningful post-secondary degree or qualification.”
The commission must report its findings to the Maine legislature by January 2022.