Opinion: Mainers with student loans deserve a break, and it’s wise for us to give it to them

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Once in a while, when my constitution is strong, I check out Facebook comments related to local news. (Yes, I know.) And on Wednesday, perhaps feeling the particular optimism that only comes on a spring day, I was emboldened to read the comments following an article about this week’s ratings on LD1978. Designed to help promote home ownership by reducing student debt, LD1978 provide up to $40,000 in one-time funds for mortgages to new homeowners who have existing student loan debt.

Most of the comments I read were in the vein of “So when can I expect to be paid off my college debt that I paid off before buying a house?” or “Aim for that. They wanted an education, they should pay. (I can’t help but hear that last part in the voice of gargamel.)

I contracted debts within the framework of my studies. Early in my career as a librarian, I struggled with my monthly repayments. It was hard. And I waited until I had paid off my loans – which, thanks to my studies, became easier to do as I progressed through the ranks – until I bought my first house. . That’s why it puzzles me that anyone who’s had the same experience would resent a younger person who’s just started a better opportunity than they themselves could have had. The echoes of ‘back then’ stories that portray hardship as a badge of honor are so clear – paying off student debt has become the equivalent of walking six miles to school in sub-zero temperatures . But let’s be clear: suffering is never a badge of honor, especially when there are better ways of doing things.

In my day – I graduated from college in 1993 and graduated from college in 1994 – the average graduate of a four-year college program left school with $16,700 in debt (adjusted for inflation); by 2020, it had nearly doubled to $30,030 (which is the average student debt of a University of Maine graduate). This increase in the debt burden parallels the increase in tuition and fees, which rose from $14,200 per year in 1993 (again, adjusted for inflation) to $25,200 in 2020.

I think how hard it would have been if I had twice as much debt as I did when I got out of college – and I realize that it’s no wonder that today’s college graduates increasingly living with their parents, delaying marriage and parenthood and postponing the purchase of a home. Starting salaries certainly haven’t grown in the same way — college debt has grown nearly three times faster than a grad’s first-year income. Going back to the metaphor, it’s like walking to school in subzero temperatures in shorts and a t-shirt while carrying a fifty-pound bag on your back.

Furthermore, I want to young Mainers to have a financially accessible education for them if they want it – whether in a trade, with an undergraduate degree or a higher degree. We need plumbers and nurses, librarians and social workers. We need teachers and mechanics, geologists and accountants. And yes, we need artists, musicians and historians and even unjustly slandered English majors (says the religion major!). But when the cost of a four-year education at the University of Maine for an out-of-state student is almost as high as the first-year salary of a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in education ($27,412 vs. $35,395), this is a serious problem. That starting salary equates to a take-home pay of just under $2,400 per month (or $15 per hour). Assuming an average $685 rent for a one-bedroom apartment (a 2020 stat that seems pretty quaint right now), a car payment of $520 (the current monthly average for a used car), and $500 in student loan payments each month, most lenders would deny this teacher a mortgage due to his high debt-to-income ratio, a situation that would likely not change until student loans would not have been reimbursed.

It’s so tempting to evaluate college degrees based on “return on investment,” and there are plenty of websites that encourage students to make education and career choices based on that data: “Avoid these degrees valueless ! But frankly, pretty big jobs to require low-return degrees – and often not just four-year undergraduate degrees, but advanced degrees. Salary.com lists the college degrees with the worst return on investment – a list that includes credentials required for addiction counselors, correctional officers, food scientists, teachers, pastors, social workers, and graphic designers. How can we make sure Maine has enough of these people to staff our More than 600 schools, to run our houses of worship, or to help fight the opioid epidemic in our state? Just as you wouldn’t call a doctor to fix a toilet, you don’t call a plumber for crisis intervention. All of these people have their place… and we desperately need them all to do the job they were trained to do.

And even though we need those jobs here in Maine, and we need young families to stay hereto settle and put down roots here. Research shows emigration more likely among younger people with lower borrowing capacity and non-homeowners. Encouraging home purchases here in Maine with student loan debt forgiveness is a key way to attract and retain the exact segment of the population that will help support us as our workforce grows. work is aging and our tax bases are shrinking. Without these young workers, our economic vitality – and Maine’s overall livability – is in jeopardy.

For those who shout “but my taxes!” on their keyboards, I feel there is madness in attacking this bill. At the proposed pilot budget of $10 million, the costs to taxpayers would be much lower annually than the proportionate increase in property taxes if the tax base continued to erode and local revenues declined, particularly in the most remote areas. more rural parts of the state. These comments so often proclaim that nothing is “free” – and I absolutely agree. The difference between our positions is that I want to distribute our tax dollars in a way that provides greater overall benefit to our state, potentially at less cost to all of us. That seems quite reasonable to me.

Photo: Students on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono. | tag

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