Students who promise to stay in Maine for at least five years to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) may receive help with student loan repayment through a new statewide program announced by the Harold Alfond Foundation yesterday.
Under the new three-year, $5.5 million Alfond Leaders program, 150 Maine employees in the eligible fields will receive up to $60,000 to pay off student loans while businesses in Maine gain a new tool to recruit and retain workers. The program will be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.
“This will be a competitive selection process that will encourage the most talented STEM professionals to live and work in Maine,” Bruce Wagner, CEO of the Finance Authority of Maine, said.
In Maine, outstanding student loan debt hovers around $4.8 billion, with the average student debt pegged near $29,000 – the 20th highest among U.S. states. Greg Powell, Chairman of the Alfond Foundation, said many Maine graduates look for higher-paying jobs outside the state, which creates a workforce shortage in the state and stymies economic growth.
“Use Alfond Leaders as a marketing tool to recruit and retain that incredible employee that you need,” Powell said, noting though Alfond Leaders is only a start and more partnerships and measures are necessary to keep Maine competitive.
So far, Maine has passed the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit allowing certain Maine employees to write off student debt payments each year, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has called for an adjustment by federal officials to the tax code. Poliquin wants employer contributions that go towards paying down student loans to be tax deductible and be a “non-income event” for the recipient.
Author: Donna Fuscaldo
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