Student loan debt continues to be an issue for those pursuing higher education in Maine. Nationwide, the outlook is pretty grim for recent graduates trying to build a life for themselves while still owing a sizeable amount of money for their education. The average debt per borrower nationwide was $28,565 for the class of 2018, an increase of $277 from the amount shouldered by the class of 2017.

In Maine, the situation is even more dire. The state ranks 38th in the nation for student debt per borrower, according to LendEDU. It was $31,213 for the class of 2018.

With the collective amount of student loan debt nationally at almost $1.6 trillion, some lawmakers realize something must be done to help students.

Some have noticed that a handful of schools in Maine do a better job of getting graduates out the door for less money than the national average. The three schools in Maine that had the lowest debt-per-borrower figures for the class of 2018 were the University of Maine at Presque Isle at $20,248, Bates College at $21,525, and Colby College at $24,437. At Colby, only 25 percent of graduates had student loan debt, down 12 percent from the prior year.

The colleges in Maine that carried the highest debt-per-borrower figures for the class of 2018 were Thomas College at $39,817, the University of Maine at $33,890, and Bowdoin College at $25,482.

Opportunity Maine Tax Credit

The Opportunity Maine Tax Credit is a program that gives Maine residents reimbursement for student loan payments. That can help take the sting out of those payments for borrowers and can allow them the freedom to relocate for work because it will help defray some of the cost.

There are stipulations that will determine whether a person qualifies, based upon what year they graduated. Anyone who graduated before 2008 doesn’t qualify for the tax credit.

Pass Maine Senate Bill 149

This proposed law, aimed at workforce attraction and retention, was introduced earlier this year. The bill states that borrowers who agree to work and live in Maine for at least five years will have their student loan debt forgiven. It also promises to reimburse Maine employers who make student loan payments for their employees, if those employees have agreed to live and work in the state for the five-year time period.

That would be a big relief to students who carry significant student loan debt, and it could benefit the state as well by bringing in graduates who might otherwise never have considered moving to Maine.

Not only would it attract residents, but these borrowers would have more discretionary income to spend since they would be receiving those student loan benefits. That is more money they would have available to spend on things like housing, vehicles, food and recreation.

Two student loan measures were recently proposed in Washington, D.C., and politicians called for the support of Maine’s representatives for those initiatives.

The Debt-Free College Act

Hawaiian Democrat Brian Schatz has pegged debt-free college as the answer to the inflating price of a college education. Schatz recently announced that he planned to reintroduce legislation that first appeared in 2018. That legislation would pick up the tab for public college education costs without requiring students to apply for loans if their family’s expected contribution didn’t cover all of their college expenses.

This legislation would take the financial pressure off graduates because they wouldn’t be saddled with potentially tens of thousands of dollars in student loans at such an early age. They would have more options about the career they might choose and might be able to skip holding a part-time job in conjunction with their regular full-time job just to be able to swing their student loan payments. Holding two jobs is a reality for some young graduates dealing with student loan debt.

The Student Borrower Bankruptcy Relief Act of 2019 would make it easier for borrowers to discharge their student loan debt by removing language in the bankruptcy code. The bill was introduced by Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who says student loan debt is crippling and sometimes a lifelong struggle for borrowers. He noted some of the people who are still paying off their student loan debt are at retirement age.

While other forms of debt, such as credit card debt, can be discharged through bankruptcy, student loan debts are rarely ever allowed to be discharged in the same manner.

Mike Brown is a research analyst with LendEDU, a consumer finance information website with headquarters in New Jersey.