There’s something special about the crop of kindergartners who have settled into classrooms across our great state this fall. This budding class of 2031 is different – not only are they diverse, funny, smart and full of ideas, but they’re also among the first wave of baby Mainers who automatically received the $500 Alfond Grant. The Alfond Scholarship Foundation began awarding Alfond Grants in 2008. For all babies born as Maine residents on or after Jan. 1, 2013, the award has been made automatically. The Finance Authority of Maine helps to administer the program for the Alfond Scholarship Foundation, which is funded by the Harold Alfond Foundation.

In 13 years, when these youngsters graduate from high school, they’ll have a $500 Alfond Grant and any earnings available to use for qualified higher education expenses. Unbeknownst to them, these kindergartners represent the beginning of a groundbreaking movement to create a skilled workforce for Maine. Maine is facing a severe shortage of skilled workers, and the problem is not going away anytime soon. Maine needs 60 percent of its workforce to have a credential of value (college degree, trade certificate, etc.) in addition to their high school diploma in order to connect to a job in the economy.

Having savings for education after high school not only increases a child’s aspirations, but also improves their rate of higher education completion. According to the Center for Social Development, low- and moderate-income children with college savings of $500 or less are three times more likely to attend college, and four times more likely to graduate.

In 2016, FAME launched Invest in ME 2030 and a lofty goal to help increase the number of Mainers with a credential of value: By 2030, all Maine families are saving for higher education and Maine will have one of the lowest average student loan debt levels in the nation. FAME challenges Maine families, employers, educators and political leaders to think long term, set the bar high and work together toward this mutually beneficial objective. With over $44 million in Alfond Grants awarded to over 88,000 children so far, the Alfond Scholarship Foundation is a key partner in this effort.

College savings is a critical tool to reduce student debt: Every dollar available at tuition time is a dollar that doesn’t have to be borrowed, and today about 56 percent of Maine college students graduate with debt. The average loan debt per student in Maine is $31,364, 10th highest in the nation, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

For all of these reasons, FAME encourages all families with Alfond Grants to learn more about NextGen 529, Maine’s Section 529 plan and consider investing their own money for their children’s future higher education.

Since 2008, over 88,000 Maine children have received the $500 Alfond Grant and 37,000 of those have opened NextGen 529 accounts. The Invest in ME challenge is off to a promising start, but there is still work to be done.

That’s why we are proud to introduce another first-in-the-state program: Invest in ME Kindergarten. It’s designed to inspire Maine families with children who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2018 to prepare early for future higher education, including potential associated costs. In March, FAME and the Alfond Scholarship Foundation invited Maine’s elementary schools to participate in Invest in ME Kindergarten by encouraging them to apply to become a County Champion School.

Over 50 schools applied, and 12 were selected as the initiative’s first County Champion Schools, with 41 other schools involved as Champion Schools. All 53 schools will receive tools and resources to help families and children aspire to and prepare for higher education. A list of all participating schools and more resources for families and educators can be found at BrightFutureForME.com, and anyone is welcome to explore that site.

There is no substitute for education – both as a means to improve a single person’s life and to improving our economy as a whole. Our greatest hope is that the kindergarten families we reach this fall will seize the many opportunities made possible through Invest in ME Kindergarten. For more information, visit BrightFutureForME.com.

Colleen Quint is president and CEO of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation, and Bruce Wagner is CEO of the Finance Authority of Maine.


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