THUMBS UP to the success of early college programs, which are giving a record number of Maine students an opportunity to get a head start on higher education.

According to a report by the Portland Press Herald, enrollment in early college programs offered through Maine’s community colleges has increased 71 percent in the last five years, from 1,651 students to 2,824.

Similar programs offered by the University of Maine System have seen enrollment jump by more than 20 percent in three years, and the state’s relatively new Bridge Year Program will double from 250 students to 500 this school year.

All the programs in some way allow high school students to earn college credit at little to no cost, increasing the likelihood that they will graduate from high school, enroll in college after high school, and stay in college once there.

With college costs and debt at an all-time high and growing, early college programs help defray some costs, and help students, particularly those who would be the first from their families to attend college, adjust to the rigors of college-level classes.

And as a matter of public policy, it is much better for states to spend on these programs, which lower debt and increase graduation rates, than to deal with the untold high financial and societal costs of a generation swimming in college debt.

THUMBS DOWN to the news that there will be no cost-of-living increase for the 60 million or so Social Security recipients, and to a quirk in the law that ensures states and some low-income recipients will bear the brunt of the impact.

Automatic cost-of-living increases were built into Social Security starting in 1975, and have averaged 4 percent a year. But for the third time since 2010, the lack of inflation, largely because of lower gas prices, means that there will be no increase.

Lower gas prices are nice, but they are not much consolation to seniors on fixed incomes who are paying more for food, housing and other items.

What’s more, because of a “hold harmless” provision that says about 70 percent of recipients can’t get less in benefits than the year before and thus cannot be handed an increase in Medicare Part B premiums, the remaining 30 percent will take on the entire burden, meaning they will each pay about $54 more a month, a 50 percent increase.

Some of those unlucky recipients have high incomes, and won’t particularly feel the increase. But others are very poor, meaning their increases will be absorbed by states, a shift in costs. Others just above the poverty line will have to handle it on their own, an unfair burden.

Congress should fix the glitch the puts the burden for premium increases on a minority of recipients, and rethink cost-of-living calculations that don’t truly reflect the lives of seniors.

THUMBS UP to a lawsuit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to act on the group’s 10-year-old petition to reclassify salt as a food additive, and remove its designation as “generally recognized as safe.”

The average American consumes 3,650 milligrams of salt a day, and U.S. schoolchildren consume an average of nearly 3,300 milligrams day.

Both totals far exceed the recommended daily dose of less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

The vast majority of salt comes from processed and prepared foods. Many fast-food items designed for individual consumption have as much or more than the recommended daily amount all by themselves, and many packaged items have unnecessarily high levels of sodium.

Overconsumption of salt can cause high blood pressure, a top risk factor in a number of prevalent diseases, including heart disease. Cutting back on consumption could decrease the number of heart attacks and strokes, highly preventable health problems that cost lives and billions of dollars in health care spending every year.

Changing the classification of salt would limit its inclusion in many items to much more reasonable levels, and keep many Americans out of the hospital.

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