The July 11 editorial “Our View: Student debt load unevenly distributed” was right on the mark. Young people are forced to take on exorbitant amounts of debt to obtain a college degree, a necessary first step for many careers.

The fact that the poor and middle class are most severely burdened by college debt not only perpetuates economic inequality but also increases it. Because of this, education cannot be the great equalizer it’s supposed to be.

The Legislature took an important step this year to help address the problem by expanding access to the Opportunity Maine tax credit. The credit, which has been around for about a decade, helps offset student debt with substantial tax savings, with a larger credit for graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The average credit is about $1,000 ($2,000 for STEM graduates).

Originally, the program applied only to graduates of Maine colleges who stayed to work in Maine. Now, any college graduate who graduated after 2008 and takes a job in the state can benefit. The new rules also create incentives for Maine companies to help pay employees’ student loans, helping to attract more skilled workers.

This is a huge win for students and for our economy, but the program is not very well-known and many people miss out on the opportunity. Remind the recent college graduates in your life to check it out when tax season rolls around again.

As Maine’s population ages, the need to attract and keep young, skilled workers is more acute than ever. It is going to take significant changes to overhaul the college finance system, but it is clear that our economy cannot thrive when advancing your education puts you so far behind.

Teresa Pierce

Democratic state representative