Maine student loan tax credit program falls flat
By ALANNA DURKIN
the associated press | January 02,2014
AUGUSTA, Maine — It’s been more than five years since Maine created tax credits for college graduates who remain in the state to work, but only a fraction of graduates take advantage of the program because of the state’s failure to effectively market it, lawmakers and advocates say.
Lawmakers heralded the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit as a bold plan to prevent “brain drain” and keep the best and the brightest in the state when they approved it in 2007. But with no money behind a marketing strategy, and recent efforts to fund one being cut, the program has gone overlooked and underutilized.
“The Legislature continued to expand the program and talk about how great they think it is in the abstract. But when it comes time to actually making sure students are aware of it, they haven’t done that,” said Rob Brown, executive director of Opportunity Maine, a nonprofit created to pass the initiative that works on college affordability issues.
A student who graduated from a state university, college or community college in 2013 and stayed in Maine can claim up to $356 for a bachelor’s degree and $65 for an associate’s degree to reduce the amount they owe the state in taxes.
In 2012, 1,157 graduates received the credit, according to Maine Revenue Services. That’s up from about 710 the year before, but still far too few considering the thousands of Mainers graduating college each year, advocates say. About 30 percent of graduates surveyed by the Finance Authority of Maine went to school in the state and remained here after graduation in 2006, the latest year such data is available.
Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond, of Portland, who worked on the public campaign to create the tax credit, said that only about four of the 60 students he spoke to on a recent visit to the University of Maine had heard of the program, which was supposed to boost college attendance and pump millions of dollars into the state’s economy.
Last year, lawmakers gave the finance authority $22,000 to contract with a nonprofit to create a marketing campaign targeting high schools and parent groups. But the money was eliminated in budget cuts laid out by Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.