Ellis Linsmith says she doesn’t want to graduate with debt

Ellis Linsmith grabs produce from the refrigerator at Rosemont Market and Bakery in Portland. insmith works at Rosemont between 15-20 hours per week while attending high school as a senior, and saves 75 percent of her earnings for college, which she hopes to graduate debt free.

Ellis Linsmith grabs produce from the refrigerator at Rosemont Market and Bakery in Portland. tinsmith works at Rosemont between 15-20 hours per week while attending high school as a senior, and saves 75 percent of her earnings for college, which she hopes to graduate debt free. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

Portland High School senior Ellis Linsmith plans to rely heavily on scholarships to fund her college education.The 17-year-old, who lives with her mother, a high school teacher, expects to qualify for a substantial amount of financial aid, but she is hoping to cover as much of her need as possible through grants and scholarships rather than student loans.

So far, Linsmith is off to a good start. She already has been accepted to the University of New Haven in Connecticut and offered a Distinguished Scholar Award worth $16,000 annually for up to four years.

The money would be subtracted directly from her annual tuition and would be in addition to whatever need-based financial aid she receives.

The total annual cost to attend New Haven is about $51,400, including tuition, books, fees and living expenses; and the average indebtedness of 2013 graduates was $41,300, according to collegedata.com.

Linsmith, who is interested in attending law school after earning her bachelor’s degree, applied to six colleges in the Northeast and said she has no clear favorite. Obviously, the award from New Haven will make her think seriously about attending.

“Wherever I get the money is where I’ll be headed,” she said. “I don’t want to graduate with debt.”

Amy Meuchel is a 12-year Navy veteran who hopes to work with fellow members of the military 

SMCC student Amy Meuchel in Portland on Wednesday. Meuchel attends college through funds from her G.I bill for her service in the Navy, and she also works part-time at a local hotel chain to fund her education.

SMCC student Amy Meuchel in Portland on Wednesday. Meuchel attends college through funds from her G.I bill for her service in the Navy, and she also works part-time at a local hotel chain to fund her education. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

When reductions in defense spending forced the U.S. military to downsize three years ago, Amy Meuchel had to rethink her career.

“With the cutbacks in 2011, I was unable to re-enlist,” said Meuchel, a Standish resident and 12-year Navy veteran.

Fortunately, the Navy gave her a precious parting gift: a promise to pay for her college education.

Meuchel is one of thousands of Mainers who have taken advantage of student financial aid offered by the military through the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other military college funds that preceded it.

At 33, she is using the GI Bill to attend Southern Maine Community College. Meuchel, who serviced F-18 Hornets in the Navy and also worked as a cook, already has earned an associate degree in culinary arts and is now working on an associate degree in psychology.

The GI Bill pays for Meuchel’s tuition and fees, which she said cost about $8,000 a year, in addition to a housing stipend and $500 a year for books.

Meuchel still feels a close connection to the military and plans to use her education to help fellow sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines.

“I would like to focus on working with (post-traumatic stress disorder) veterans,” she said.

The Mack family turns to financial aid, student loans and a home equity line of credit to pay for college

Laurie Mack who has a daughter in college and a son who is a senior in high school at her office in Portland Friday.  Mack is a speech therapist at Northeast Hearing & Speech.

Laurie Mack who has a daughter in college and a son who is a senior in high school at her office in Portland Friday. Mack is a speech therapist at Northeast Hearing & Speech. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Parents often play a major role in the process of choosing and paying for a student’s college education. Portland resident Laurie Mack and her husband are going through that process for the second time in three years. Their daughter, Samantha, is a sophomore at Simmons College in Boston, and their son, James, is a senior at Deering High School. He has not yet chosen a school but is considering the University of Maine in Orono, Mack said.

“Parents are stressed about first getting them accepted, and then how are we going to pay for it,” she said.

Mack said the family plans to pay for college in a variety of ways. Samantha has received merit-based scholarships and taken out federally subsidized student loans. She also qualified for a substantial amount of financial aid. For the rest, her parents are drawing on a home equity line of credit to help out. Mack said they looked into taking out privately issued student loans but found them prohibitively expensive.

The annual cost to attend Simmons is about $50,000. Based on their family income, Samantha and her parents are expected to cover about half that amount, not including merit-based scholarships.

Next year, with two kids attending college at the same time, the Macks’ overall expected family contribution will not change – it merely will be split between two students.

Complete coverage of our series on the rising costs of college