Sen. Millett’s bills would lower college costs, increase degree completion

Posted: January 23, 2017 | Education and Cultural Affairs, Senator Millett

Students, teachers testify in favor of legislation at Education Committee on Monday

AUGUSTA — Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, has introduced bills aimed at reducing the out-of-pocket cost for college and increasing post-secondary degree attainment rates for Maine students.

The two bills received public hearings before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Monday.

The first bill, LD 32, “An Act To Increase the Size of Grants under the Maine State Grant Program,” would increase the minimum grant per eligible student from $1,000 to $2,000. The Maine State Grant Program is the primary need-based grant program available to Maine’s post-secondary students.

Sen. Rebecca Millet, D-Cape Elizabeth

Sen. Rebecca Millet, D-Cape Elizabeth

Post-secondary education includes not only two- and four-year degrees, but technical and vocational programs the bestow professional certificates.

“The Maine Legislature’s Commission to Study College Affordability and Completion found that many Maine college students have real trouble paying for their education,” said Sen. Millett, who serves on the Committee. “Increasing the minimum grant amount in the Maine State Grant Program will help shrink the gap between their college bills and their ability to pay.”

Current students and professors spoke in favor of the bill, noting the impact a slight increase in grant funding can have on students’ lives. They said many students must work — sometimes full time or multiple jobs — in order to meet their financial obligations, and that the time spent working detracts from time that could be spent studying.

Rob Walker, executive director of the Maine Education Association, told the committee that while tuition at state colleges and university is a deal compared with private schools, it’s still expensive.

“The $2,000 grant, if approved, actually puts a dent in those tuition bills,” Walker said.

The second bill, LD 43, “Resolve, To Establish the Task Force To Study Higher Education Attainment and Completion Goals,” would create a task force to establish post-secondary degree completion goals, review and report progress annually and provide guidance on ways to meet the goals. Currently, Maine does not have established attainment goals, which makes it difficult to measure the state’s success in college degree attainment.

“Unfortunately, Maine lags behind our neighboring states in college attainment and completion and is substantially lower than the national target,” said Sen. Millett. “Businesses know that one of our economy’s greatest needs is a well-trained, educated workforce capable of fulfilling the needs of today’s economy. This bill will put us on track toward strengthening Maine’s workforce and help build a stronger economy.”

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that 65 percent of U.S. jobs by 2020 will require some form of post-secondary education. For Maine’s working population age 25 to 64, college attainment is 39.9 percent compared to 46.7 percent in New Hampshire, 45.5 percent in Vermont and 51.5 percent in Massachusetts.

“My hope is that this task force will help determine what the primary road blocks are to getting students into college and, once there, helping they stay in and graduate,” said University of Maine Associate Professor of Physics Jim McClymer. “We all know life happens as we move forward with our plans. Perhaps the right intervention and support at the right time can help more students achieve their goals.”

Among those who spoke in favor of LD 43 was Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will make recommendations on LD 32 and 43 in the coming weeks. Both bills will be subject to votes in the House and Senate.