State officials are working on a plan to offer interest-free loans to students who study science or technology at a Maine college and go on to work in a related job in the state.

The Finance Authority of Maine loans would be offered to any college student who studies in a STEM field – science, technology, engineering or mathematics, officials said Monday.

FAME is working with Gov. Paul LePage’s office on the legislation and could introduce it in the coming weeks, said FAME spokesman Bill Norbert.

“It’s a work in progress,” Norbert said. “The whole idea is to try and get students to study these fields and to work in Maine industries in those fields. In return, they would have some of their loans paid off.”

Maine’s need for STEM workers is expected to rise sharply in the coming years, according to a Dec. 23 report released by the state Department of Labor. The number of science- and technology-related jobs is expected to increase 6.5 percent from 2012 to 2022, nearly three times the rate for all occupations, it said. The expected gain of 6,800 jobs in STEM occupations would account for 46 percent of expected net job growth.

STEM jobs make up 11.8 percent of all employment in Maine, placing the state 31st in the nation, said Robert Clifford, senior policy analyst for the Boston Fed’s New England Public Policy Center.


The details have yet to be worked out, but the proposed bill would provide zero-interest loans, capped at $7,500 a year and $30,000 over four years, roughly the same amount as the average student loan debt carried by Maine graduates.

Norbert said officials also were working out how the loan repayment would work if a student dropped out, or graduated and either couldn’t find a STEM job or left the state. He said they were evaluating a tiered interest plan, with students having to pay back the loan at a lower rate if they graduated but couldn’t find a job, and a higher interest rate for a graduate who left Maine.

The proposal is a sign of the importance of STEM careers in Maine, said Jay Collier, director of the Project Login program at the advocacy group Educate Maine. Project Login is focused on workforce development in the computer science and information technology fields.

“We are very happy to have any opportunity to encourage students to study in these fields and go into these fields,” Collier said. “Businesses are very anxious to have talent come their way.”

The loan program would be open to both in-state and out-of-state students, who pay about three times the amount as in-state students at the state universities. In-state tuition and fees at the University of Maine in Orono total $10,600 a year, plus an additional $100 per engineering course. The program would be open to students at any college or university in Maine, public or private.

“If Maine wants to be competitive, we need to step up to the plate,” said Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, a member of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “We ought to invest in the incentive to get people here.”


Norbert said they are seeking $10 million in seed money from the state to launch the program, with future funding possibly supplemented by local businesses. One approach could be to offer tax credits to employers that match payments toward the student loans. FAME is a quasi-independent state agency that distributes funds authorized by the state to Maine residents for business and education opportunities.

The governor discussed the proposal Monday with members of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. LePage’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

Norbert is confident they could find state funds to seed the program with LePage’s help.

“This is a real priority for him,” he said. “This has been very collaborative.”

FAME already offers several student loan programs that offer loan forgiveness if graduates work in the state in specific fields, such as dentistry or education. It also offers low-interest loan programs for particular fields, such as postgraduate medical, dental and veterinary education.

Maine college graduates also can get a tax break through the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, which offers graduates with an associate degree from a Maine college or university nearly $800 in yearly state income-tax credits, and over $4,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree.

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