PORTLAND, Maine — It's that time of year when thousands of students return to their college campuses. Some of them will enter the fall semester with a little less stress on their shoulders.
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday a student loan debt relief plan to eliminate thousands of dollars of debt for qualified Americans. While people are split on the decision, the high cost of higher education is something that can't be debated.
“We were very specific at looking at schools that were affordable, so we didn’t have to take out loans for [our daughter's] undergraduate [degree]," Alexa Steiger said Thursday.
Steiger and her family had been looking forward to the moment her daughter, Liz Lewis, stepped on a college campus for the first time as a student. Although the family is from Colorado, they fell in love with the Portland area. This year, Lewis will be a freshman at the University of Southern Maine and is looking to pursue a career in law.
Graduate school can be expensive, too, which is why Steiger said it was important to find an affordable school so her daughter isn't worried about thousands of dollars of debt before she begins her career.
“I also don’t want her to take on the part-time job and the hours I had when I was in college," Steiger added. “I want her to have time to study, to keep her grades up, and to have an active social life.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Colton Olson, also from Colorado, is a few years removed from finishing a master's and Ph.D. program.
“To cover the [cost of] school and the living I had to take out I think $15,000 of loans. But that’s it. That’s all I got for almost 10 years in school," Olson said.
He added he was lucky to take advantage of work and teaching assistant programs which covered a lot of his tuition and living expenses.
While Biden's plan may erase the last remaining loans Olson still has to pay, Olson brought up a point many have over the last 24 hours: “Debt doesn’t disappear, it moves to other places.”
Maine lawmakers echoed that same sentiment in the hours following Biden's announcement, saying it's unfair for other people who either never went to college or already paid their debts to foot the bill for those who will get their debts cleared.
According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Biden's plan will help roughly 177,000 loan borrowers in the state. The debt forgiveness will also help one in three borrowers afford necessities like food and rent.
“It’s a good time to be a student, it’s a good time to be a learner in the state of Maine, I will say that," David Daigler, the president of the Maine Community College System, said.
Daigler mentioned community colleges are providing recent Maine high school graduates with free tuition, and older adults can navigate their working schedules and still attend free training programs if they want to advance or switch their careers.
“Higher education really needs to look itself in the eye and make some serious changes," Daigler added.
To make the changes that will help students of today and tomorrow, Daigler said colleges and universities need to offer more flexible schedules for classes and programs and reduce the cost of education.
Lower education costs can not only benefit students reaching for higher education but parents as well, like Steiger, so she can focus on the cost of a plane ticket to return to Maine and visit her daughter in between classes.
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