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Report: Student Debt Weighing Down Maine's Economy

PORTLAND, Maine - A new report from a coalition of grass roots community organizations finds that rapidly-rising student debt is taking a toll on students and their families, and creating long-term economic problems. The report also finds that Maine students face a bigger challenge than others in paying back their debts.  

The report by the Alliance for a Just Society finds that graduating students in Maine face an average debt load of just over $29,000. It's become such a burden that some are dropping out of college, moving home with their parents or racking up more credit card debt to cover the cost of their expenses.

Christy Daggett is an analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy. She says Maine's debt-to-median income ratio is the 11th highest in the nation. In other words, students are trying to pay back loans on low incomes.

"Just to bring it home, a Maine graduate owing the median amount faces a monthly payment of $337 for 10 years, which amounts to $11,000 in interest alone over that period," Daggett said.

Joining Daggett at a news conference at the University of Southern Maine was nursing student Jocylin Egan, who says she'll owe about $55,000 by the time she graduates next year. In addition to her classes, Egan currently works two jobs and grows her own food, but she may have to postpone graduate school.

"My debt definitely affects the choices that I make all of the time," she said. "I'm always aware of that impending cloud of debt that I have when I get out of school and I go to work."

"I will say this: Nothing is off the table," says Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond. Alfond says the newly-created Commission to Address College Affordability and Degree Completion is considering strategies that include freezing tuition for all four years and establishing a tuition-free sophomore year.

"We need to look at all of the ways that we can make college more affordable to Mainers and those who come into our state," Alfond says.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Edcuation, almost 13 percent of Maine borrowers are more than 90 days delinquent on their student loans.

View the report from the Alliance for a Just Society.