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September 18, 2017

UMaine System initiative targets student loan debt

S&P Settlement Fund provides $900K for program

The $1.26 million investment to expand the Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy project across Maine includes a $901,000 award from the Standard & Poor's Settlement Fund administered by the Office of Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and $359,000 in student employment funds and overhead support from the University of Maine at Farmington.

The settlement fund is the result of watershed litigation against Wall Street giant Standard & Poor's for its part in causing the recession and housing crisis of 2008.

In accordance with the agreement Mills reached with the Legislature a year ago, all four legislative leaders agreed to the distribution of the remaining settlement funds.

"Today we have a student debt crisis," Mills stated in a news release, "and this financial burden is preventing Maine graduates from achieving their best potential, reducing debt, buying homes and supporting young families in our state."

Nationally, student debt has surpassed credit card debt, reaching $1.4 trillion last year. Maine has the 14th highest average debt for graduates in the nation at $30,000.

The University of Maine System plans to invest $1.2 million to expand the University of Maine at Farmington's successful Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program across Maine's seven public universities.

The program would eventually make peer-based financial education available to students not yet enrolled at UMaine System colleges through partnerships with Maine's community colleges and local schools.

The planned five-year expansion will train students throughout the system as "peer financial educators" who will initially deliver financial literacy programming and resources to their college peers.

When fully implemented, the program will grow to include further outreach efforts to middle and high school and community college students to instill Maine students with the habits and awareness needed to make informed decisions about their personal finances and avoid excessive debt.

Here's how it works

The Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program provides one-on-one and group money management sessions and student loan default prevention guidance. This student-to-student interaction is a proven and powerful way for students to learn from their peers and improve their chances for financial success.

Started in 2013, the UMF pilot program trained students to help their peers have a better understanding of their finances and how to make good choices that would affect them now and in the future.

Over the course of the program, a core group of six peer educators reached more than 1,000 students providing a wide array of assistance. They also interacted with counselors, advisers, teachers, students and administrators from secondary schools from around the state.

Teaching lifetime financial skills

According to a recent report by American Student Assistance, financial education programs empower students and alumni to make smarter financial decisions and foster management skills that last a lifetime.

"Peer-driven, just-in-time education and financial counseling is an innovative approach that increases engagement and empowers students to take charge of their financial future," said Mary Dyer, financial education officer with the Finance Authority of Maine. "The peer-based program launched at the University of Maine at Farmington has achieved promising initial results.

"Maine's public universities have made historic investments in financial aid, expanded low and no cost early college opportunities, and a nation-leading commitment to keeping the costs of public higher education within the means of Maine families," said James H. Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System. "With the statewide expansion of a proven, peer-based financial literacy program we are going to improve awareness among our students and their families about the resources and choices that can significantly reduce the costs, time, and debt it takes to earn a degree or credential that leads to a good Maine career."

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