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What new bill aiming to give tuition break to qualifying Maine students could mean

LD 512 would provide tuition waivers to eligible students interested in pursuing a four-year degree at any University of Maine System school.

MAINE, USA — There is a newly proposed bill in Augusta by Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Penobscot, that would essentially provide 50 percent tuition vouchers to Maine residents who earn a high school diploma between the years 2023 and 2025. 

The students would also have to live in Maine when they enroll in any University of Maine System campus, aim to get a full-time degree, and keep a 2.0 GPA.

The bill follows Gov. Janet Mills' initiative that provides free community college tuition to students who received a high school degree during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ryan Low, the chief financial officer for the UMaine System, works out of the flagship campus in Orono. Last week, he testified in strong support of the legislation, saying these tuition vouchers would make the four-year university more affordable to Maine students. He argued it would also allow students who otherwise chose community colleges because of the tuition break, to now consider any UMaine System campus as well. 

Low added if this bill passes, it would give students the option many lacked.

"It is not unusual for students to be accepted into both the community college and the University of Maine System, and just based on historical data we can see that students who are taking advantage of this program, is nearly twice as many students who are going to the community college that typically went prior to this," Low said. "So we know it has an impact, having said that, the largest number of transfers in the University of Maine System are from the Maine Community College System, so a strong Maine Community College System is good for the university, but we do think this gives students a choice."

Low said programs like these that offer free tuition have been very successful in other states.

"We are not looking to pit the university against the community college, at the end of the day, more students in Maine who are accessing higher education, that's good for our system, that's good for the community colleges, and for the state's economy," Low explained.

The bill is currently being discussed by the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. It would add about $7 million to the governor's budget over the next two years.

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