Radio Address: Millett says we must do more to make college affordable to Mainers

Posted: November 19, 2014 | Front Page, Senator Millett, Weekly Radio Address
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Good Morning. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth. As a mother of two teenagers, I can tell you that there are many things that I worry about–not the least of which is what opportunities will be available for my children when they graduate from high school.

Of course, like many parents, I want my children to work hard but I also want their hard work to mean something. Ultimately, I want their life to be fulfilling and rewarding.

There was a time when going to college was that ticket to opportunity. If you studied hard and worked hard, a college degree would follow, and with that degree, many more doors would open.

Unfortunately, life is not that straightforward any more. For too many Mainers, the cost of college has now become an obstacle–preventing too many of our young people from even going to college—and preventing even more from being able to stay in college. And, for those who do make it through to earn their degree, many are saddled with oppressive college debt—that delays them from doing things like getting married, buying a car, or owning their own home.

As the Senate chair of the Education Committee and the College Affordability Commission, I can tell you that I have heard story after story from parents and students alike about these challenges. I’ve also read volumes of studies and statistics, and all the data points in the same direction:

One, college attainment is the clearest path to the middle class. A recent Pew Research Center report found that college graduates earn nearly twice as much as those with only a high school degree. And, they are also more likely to be employed full-time and less likely to be unemployed.

Two, when it comes to degree attainment, the U.S. is being outpaced. In 1990, the U.S. was first in the world and now we rank 12th. Our economy depends on an educated and trained workforce.

Three, college is out of reach for many—and nearly out of reach for most. Families are expected to contribute more and more while wages haven’t kept up.

It is obvious that something must be done.

Just this week, the College Affordability Commission took one small step towards helping more Mainers afford college by recommending an increase to the Maine State Grant Program—a program aimed at helping Maine students get closer to meeting the cost of higher education. The Commission also recommended increasing the grant award for each year the student completes.

With the average college student graduating with nearly $29,000 in debt, every dollar used to defray cost and reduce the amount of money owed, is one step closer to providing economic security for our college graduates and growing our middle class.

But it doesn’t stop there. State funding for our state’s universities and community colleges has been anemic. In these challenging economic times, unfortunately, the very thing we need to be investing in—education—has been has been pushed aside.

Everybody understands that higher education is a top priority to build a skilled workforce, to grow our economy toward prosperity, and strengthen our future, so then let’s put our money where our mouth is.

This requires a commitment from all stakeholders—from businesses and citizens alike—to prioritize this investment in funding higher education at appropriate levels, so that Maine families don’t take on that burden alone.

Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett. Have a good weekend.

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