Maine Lawmakers Focus on College Affordability: “It’s not just a young person problem”

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

commissionLawmakers, students, parents, and higher education leaders held a press conference in February endorsing a collaborative 10-point plan to reduce higher education costs and increase degree attainment. The plan is the outcome of the Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion.

Highlights of the Commission’s plan include:

  • Increasing the Maine State Grant Program from around $1,000 (roughly the same amount offered in 1992) to $2,500.
  • Then to ensure timely degree completion, the grant will be structured on a tiered system that provides an additional $250 for each year a student is enrolled, up to five years;
  • Fully fund public higher education institutions in order to keep tuition low;
  • Increase transparency in college costs by having a published list of average class fees by majors for all Maine colleges and universities;
  • Encourage partnerships between higher ed institutions to develop open education resources, textbook coops, and free or reduced cost digital textbook options in order to help combat the rising prices of textbooks;
    Adoption of the innovative “Game Changers” strategies from Complete College America by our state’s public institutions;

  • Setting specific degree attainment goals by the state and a plan to reach them.

    The 13-member commission was created with the passage of LD 1849, “Resolve, To Establish the Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion”, during the 126th Legislature and included lawmakers and experts.They began their work last summer by meeting with students, parents, graduates, stranded learners, college representatives, financial aid representatives and key stakeholders from across the higher education landscape.

      “The issue of college affordability is an issue that spans beyond just being a ‘young person’s issue.’ It’s a concern for students of all ages, and their families. It’s a concern for the employers who lack a skilled workforce. And, it’s a concern for all of us, who want an economically prosperous state,” said State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, who served as the co-chair of the task force.

      Statistics show that the average debt for Maine college students jumped 25 percent since 2008 to nearly $30,000–putting Maine at the 7th highest debt per student in the nation.

      “As co-chair of the Legislature’s Youth Caucus, I know how important higher education is to a career and earnings but that many of my peers face insurmountable barriers to finishing college,” Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick, the House chair of the commission. “The commission can be proud of its work and of tackling the complex issues around college completion. I’m especially glad that we are boosting the Maine State Grant, a key program that has not kept pace with the costs of higher education. It has remained at about the same level it had been in 1992, meaning it barely covers the cost of textbooks rather than making a big difference in tuition costs.”

    Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) shared his prepared remarks:

      Good afternoon – I am Rep. Matt Pouliot, I represent district 86, West and North Augusta, and am co-chair of the Maine Youth Caucus and a member of the commission to study college affordability and completion.

      $1.2 TRILLION. Yes, that is TRILLION with a T. That was the amount of student loan debt as of 2013. It is a number that has TRIPLED in the last decade alone. IN FACT, Student loans have passed credit cards and auto loans to become the second biggest source of personal debt in the U.S. This is absurd.

      Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta)

      Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta)

      The cost of college is in some ways not the worst of it. Let’s take this a step further. Let’s suppose for a moment that you have amounted some level of student loan debt, you are out of school and you’ve not even completed your degree. This is the reality for many Maine people. In fact, it is a reality for nearly a quarter million Maine people who’ve started some form of post-secondary education but haven’t completed that training. They are stranded learners. This grim reality forced us to study not only affordability in our commission, but also completion.

      Future generations deserve better and need real higher education reform now. To increase degree completion we required the Boards of Trustees for the University of Maine System, Maine Community College System and the Maine Maritime Academy to report back to the Joint Standing Committee of Education and Cultural Affairs by July 1, 2015 regarding their reactions to the Game Changers strategies and how the State of Maine could assist in implementation of these strategies. These Game Changers strategies have been developed by Complete College America and include 5 key elements.

      These elements are:

       Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D- Brunswick) speak at commission press conference.

      Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D- Brunswick) answer media questions at commission press conference.

    • Performance Funding: Pay for performance, not just enrollment. Tie state funding to student progression through programs and completion of degrees and certificates. Include financial incentives to encourage the success of low-income students and the production of graduates in high-demand fields.
    • Corequisite Remediation: Default many more unprepared students into college-level gateway courses with mandatory, just-in-time instructional support. Combine reading and writing instruction. Align mathematics to programs of study, matching the curriculum to real-world career needs.
    • Full-Time is 15 Incentivize students to attend full-time and ensure that full-time means 15 credits per semester. Use banded tuition so 15 credits per semester cost students no more than 12 credits. Also, ensure that students can easily transfer credits.
    • Structured Schedules Help working students balance jobs and school by using structured scheduling of classes to add predictability to their busy lives — doing so enables many more students to attend college full-time, shortening their time to completion.
    • Guided Pathways to Success Enabled by technology, default all students into highly structured degree plans, not individual courses. Start students in a limited number of “meta majors,” which narrow into specific majors. Map out every semester of study for the entire program, and guarantee that milestone courses will be available when needed. Use built-in early warning systems to alert advisers when students fall behind to ensure efficient intervention.

      Now is the time for these important reforms. We must all get a one way ticket on the college affordability and completion bandwagon. The growth of our economy and the prosperity of our future generations depends on it.

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