Todd Richard is about to take a leap of faith.

He’s 39 years old, a father of two and a lifelong musician. He’s got about two years of an undergraduate degree in music under his belt, and this fall, he’ll be one of the first students in a new music program at Portland’s Maine College of Art.

Figuring out how to pay the $30,000 annual tuition at MECA is a bit overwhelming, he said.

“I’m still making payments on all my (earlier) student loans,” said Richard, who attended two years at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, then used loans to finance brief periods at the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Southern Maine. “They financed (college) but left me saddled with debt.”

On top of that, his wife is paying off student loans from her years at USM, he said. As a family, they’ve had to take advantage of loan deferments and income-based repayment plans to stay on top of the payments. “That is the only thing that has saved us,” he said.

“You’re either writing a check or seeking a deferment because of life changes,” said Richard, who has two children, a 3-year-old and a 6-week-old. The debt means they can’t save, and barely spend on anything beyond the essentials.

“We still haven’t taken a honeymoon. We only have one car, and we live in Westbrook,” he said. “Any kind of consumer activity is throttled down.”

Richard, who plans to continue working full time at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, said he’s looking forward to finally getting his bachelor of fine arts degree from MECA.

“I’ve been a contributing musician, but that is hardly where my career is supposed to stop,” he said. “I’m going to MECA to learn how to be the artist.”

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