BANGOR, Maine — Some Maine business and education leaders have joined forces in hopes of boosting the number of Mainers going to college and avoid hefty debt that might keep them from finishing.
“Today, we want to draw statewide attention to the economic impact an undereducated workforce and growing student debt are having on our state and stress the importance of starting to save for college or any form of postsecondary education early,” said Ben Gilman, senior government relations specialist at the chamber of commerce.
About 64 percent of Maine’s college graduates leave school with debt. That debt averages out to $31,000 per student, the seventh-highest rate of debt in the nation, according to the Institute of College Access and Success.
During a Friday event in Portland, FAME, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and local education and political leaders announced an initiative aimed at ensuring every Maine family is saving for their children’s higher education by 2030. They’re calling it Invest in ME 2030.
High levels of debt can serve as a significant barrier to obtaining a degree and, ultimately, entering the workforce. One way of overcoming that is to ensure families start saving for college early on.
“If you look at college statistics, children with savings are six times more likely to go to college,” Wagner said. That’s true even if the savings is small.
To hit the 2030 goal, the coalition announced several initiatives:
— A new scholarship sweepstakes program that will offer $1,000 awards to 16 Mainers, one for each county. Those interested in receiving the scholarship will enter the sweepstakes, and the winner will be randomly selected. For more information, visit NetGenForMe.com.
— The launch of TheLoanForMe.com, which is meant to be the “ultimate student loan resource for Maine,” to help guide families and students to borrow wisely, find scholarships and keep their debt down.
— Bolstering and promoting the NextGen savings account, a Section 529 college savings program administered by FAME. That savings account can start out at birth with a $500 education grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation.
— In addition, for families with an eligible NextGen account that contribute $600 annually, FAME will match up to $300 in each calendar year. Wagner said few Maine families are taking advantage of these savings opportunities, so FAME hopes to do a better job of promoting these programs and making them accessible.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.