GOP, Democratic legislative leaders float proposals to make college in Maine more accessible

Posted Jan. 28, 2014, at 6:15 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2014, at 8:51 a.m.
Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland.
Maine State Senate
Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A pair of bills before the Legislature’s Education Committee on Wednesday both aim to put a college education more within reach for Maine students.

One of the bills, LD 1702, sponsored by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, directs the University of Maine System and the state’s community college system to study a program in Oregon, known as “Pay it forward, pay it back.”

That program allows eligible students to enroll in the state university system without paying tuition or fees but requires them to pay a fixed percentage of their income to the university system for a set period of years after graduation.

The other bill before the committee, LD 1703, offered by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, also includes adoption of something similar to the Oregon model as well as a list of other initiatives, including incentives for degree completion and for staying in Maine after graduation, tuition guarantees, lower-interest and state-backed student loans and an expansion of online learning opportunities, among other changes.

Alfond said his measure is meant to ease the financial burden of higher education for Maine families.

“This trend of rising college costs is preventing many Maine students from completing their college degree,” Alfond said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “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.”

He also said no single proposal would be a “silver bullet or will be the one solution to the problem. We must address this problem by looking at every idea and coming up with the best solution for Maine.”

The committee is expected to hear public testimony on the bills starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, in Room 202 of the Cross Building, next to the State House in Augusta.

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