Naima Noor, currently a student at the University of Southern Maine, is photographed at Central Maine Community College where she went for the first two years of her college education.
LEWISTON — One way to graduate from college with less debt is to take advantage of the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System, as Naima Noor did.
Or, take college courses while in high school, which are offered at most high schools, including Auburn’s Edward Little High School.
Or, do both.
Noor, 25, is graduating from the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in May. Her student loan debt will be about $16,000. The average student loan debt for a recent college graduate in Maine is $29,000.
Noor graduated from Lewiston High School in 2010. She then attended Central Maine Community College, graduating in 2012.
She wanted to transfer to a college in Connecticut and major in respiratory therapy. They offered her a scholarship, “but I would still have to pay $10,000 a semester,” or $20,000 a year.
“There was no way I could afford that,” Noor said. “My family tried to help.”
She decided the cost was too high.
“It wasn’t logical,” she said. “At the time, I was crushed. I was so sure it was what I wanted to do at that time.”
She took a year off to reflect on what she should do for a career. In that year, she volunteered and got involved with children with special needs. That led her to USM to explore what majors might work with her interests.
She found one.
Noor is earning a bachelor’s degree in social behavioral science with a minor in early childhood education.
“I want to work with kids with special needs,” she said.
She plans to be active and help those with disabilities in her community.
Her student loan debt is manageable, she said. Thinking about what she could have owed if she attended the college in Connecticut “gives me a migraine,” she said.
“I got lucky,” Noor said.
At Edward Little High School, dozens of juniors and seniors are earning both high school and college credit by taking college courses while in high school.
The bulk of the courses are taught at Edward Little, said Aspirations Coordinator Jim Horn.
Horn’s been adding more college courses at ELHS every year. This year, he has 48 students taking University of Maine at Augusta courses; 26 students taking Central Maine Community College courses; 15 students taking an Eastern Maine Community College course; 37 taking University of Maine at Fort Kent courses, and 12 students taking Kennebec Valley Community College courses.
Six Edward Little seniors are taking courses at Bates College.
The courses range from EMT training to academics, including English, math, science, social studies, government and psychology.
The number of students taking college courses in high school “is a lot more than we’ve had in the past,” Horn said. “And there’ll be more next year.”
High school students pay minimum costs, sometimes the state picks up all the costs, Horn said.
Some students take a few college courses, others get a full year of college completed in high school. This year 15 seniors will have a year of college complete upon graduating, Horn said.
“When they graduate from high school, they have college credit and no debt,” Horn said.
Auburn School Department Aspirations Coordinator Jim Horn, shown in the halls of Edward Little High School, has partnered with a number of Maine colleges to help students earn college credit while in high school, reducing their college costs.