Bill could waive college tuition for academically strong students living in poverty

PORTLAND — If independent Portland lawmaker Ben Chipman’s proposed legislation passes, college tuition could be covered for high-achieving Maine high schoolers living in poverty.

Under LD 962, “An Act to Increase Access to Higher Education,” students living in Maine households making less than $30,000 annually could go to college in the state without paying tuition if they graduate in the top 25 percent of their senior classes academically.

“What we’re finding now is a high number of part-time students who have to take on two or three jobs while going to school, and who take seven or eight years to get a four-year degree,” Chipman said. “And then when they do get out, they’re overloaded with student loan debt.”

Still many more students, the state representative said, don’t go on to higher education at all because the financial barriers are too high.

Chipman said his district, which includes parts of Portland’s Parkside and Bayside neighborhoods, has many college students and many low-income families. He said in talking with constituents on the campaign trail last fall, he found that making higher education more affordable for more people was important to many of them.

“The cost of higher education has gone up significantly, and has become out-of-reach for some people,” Chipman said. “[My bill] would help hundreds, if not thousands, of students in Maine.”

The bill has plenty of support; among 112 co-sponsors are Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and Assistant Minority Leaders in both the House and Senate, Alexander Willette, R-Mapleton, and Roger Katz, R-Kennebec, respectively.

Going into an April 11 Education and Cultural Affairs Committee work session on the proposed legislation, Chipman noted that 11 of the committee’s 14 members are co-sponsors of the bill, including Chairwoman Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cumberland, and ranking Republican Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville.

Maine Community College System legislative liaison Gary Crocker, representing the system, testified in favor of the bill during a Wednesday afternoon hearing in which no one spoke against it, Chipman said.

“We believe there is value in recognizing the academic merits of a student’s accomplishments in high school and tying that to success in college,” Crocker told the committee in prepared comments. “The creation of a fund to support merit scholarships will have great benefit for both the student and the state of Maine.”

If the committee decides to support the measure, Chipman said, it would then have to decide whether to recommend allocating state funding for it or determining a less direct way to implement it, by asking the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems to develop a certain number of tuition waivers for qualifying students.

Chipman also noted that the bill seeks to cover whatever tuition costs remain after grants have been subtracted, and the proposed legislation does not apply to room and board costs, which he acknowledged can be expensive.

He said 13 other states already have similar programs on the books for low-income high schoolers.

“If they can afford to do this, we need to find a way to pay for it, too,” Chipman said.

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FRANK EARLEY's picture

Just feeling hypothetical today.....

Every time a new idea is presented, people seem to grasp it from two pretty typical directions. Of course the usual question in today's economy is, who's going to pay for it? Now comes the debate. Are we going to pay now, or are we going to pay later? Most people see the present cost as troublesome. Yes everyone pays, and it seems totally unfair. On the other side of the coin, What if this person isn't able to continue their education. Winds up with just a high school diploma and a lot of baggage. You see, with out the benefit of a college degree, you are starting your job search with a huge disadvantage. Most people never seem to get out of this rut. They eventually end up working two and three jobs to earn the same income. The stress of working multiple jobs will eventually wear a person out. By this time they have a family, and household bills. This paycheck to paycheck system works great, or at least enough to get by, until the inevitable happens. Daddy has a couple of beer's to many, on a Saturday night, and winds up in the emergency room with a broken leg.
Now for the long term results. We have a family unable to pay the bills and will probably never be able to catch up. Every week that Daddy is sidelined with the broken leg, is another week of escalating bills. The grocery money is gone. there isn't enough to even fill up the gas tank. Now the oil is running low, and the rent is due in a week or so. where do we go? We go to the State and local assistance.
It's only meant to be temporary, but I'll tell you from experience. It's extremely difficult if not totally impossible to climb back out of that hole.
We are now paying Subsidized Rent, Heating assistance, the utility bills, and lets not forget SNAP. for, lets say a family of four. It's meant to be temporary but everyone knows, this family is doomed to assistance for a very long time, if not forever.
Now we have to ask the question. Should we have paid then???????

 's picture

And just whom is going to pay

And just whom is going to pay for this?
Everyone else that's who.
Colleges and universities will just raise their tuition rates in order to support the new law.

 's picture

Another entitlement?

So lets see here, if my wife and I make $29K each for a combined income of $58K we'd have to pay for our kids to go to college. But if we got divorced then our kids could go for free? Way to encourage two parent families Augusta! This is just another entitlement program that working families will have to pay twice for. Once for their own kids and again for someone else's.


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