AUGUSTA — Bills aimed at making college more affordable for Maine students will boost degree completion and yield significant benefits for the state, supporters said Wednesday.

Lawmakers are beginning to examine two bills that have backing from higher education officials and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce to have the state study methods for lowering the cost of higher education and reduce the student loan burden for Maine students.

A bill from Assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz directs Maine schools to study a pilot program being developed in Oregon, which will require legislative approval there. In the program, students would go to school for free and pay a percentage of their post-graduation paychecks back to the state over time.

The program is designed to be self-funding as the money paid back to the state would pay for future students. But one of the biggest questions that remain is how the state would pay for the startup costs, Katz told the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

“But the potential complexity of actual implementation of this should not deter us from at least exploring the idea,” said Katz, of Augusta.

The bill is being backed by independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler, who said the bill would benefit all Mainers by preventing college dropouts and bolstering the state’s educated workforce.

The committee is also examining a bill that under which the state would examine a variety of methods for reducing higher education costs, such as the Oregon model, expanding online learning or providing student loan interest rate reductions. Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond, who’s sponsoring the measure, said he believes a full range of options should be considered.

“I don’t claim that any of these proposals will be a silver bullet or that there will be one solution,” he said.

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