State legislators are hard at work on tools that could ease Maine’s student debt crisis. Tax credits and loan forgiveness for homebuyers would aim to help the state’s graduates, who owe an average of $33,000 in federal and private loans, according to the Department of Education.

Brunswick High math teacher Sam Farrell began teaching applied business math four years ago. “I just realized how much easier my life could have been if I had known this stuff at an early age,” he said. Contributed / Sam Farrell

At Brunswick High School, math teacher Sam Farrell is teaching students to make smart fiscal decisions before they get into trouble.

“There’s over a trillion dollars in student loan debt in this country,” said Farrell, whose personal finance class has exploded in popularity over the past four years. “How many of those people didn’t realize what they were signing up for? I’m trying to change that, at least with my little piece.”

Since he took over and revamped the course, called Applied Business Math, enrollment has jumped from 12 students a year to 70 or more each semester, said Farrell, who also coaches the school’s girls basketball team. So many students signed up for the class this year that he had to turn some away.

Using a mix of materials from popular radio show host Dave Ramsey’s personal finance courses and visits from outside entrepreneurs, financial experts and other adults, Farrell covers everything from budgeting to identity theft. When students ask about other topics, like cryptocurrency, he adds new material to the curriculum.

“It’s kind of neat that I have the leeway to do what the kids are interested in,” Farrell said. “I think that’s why so many kids sign up.”


Yet for many Brunswick upperclassmen staring down eye-popping university price tags (a year at Bowdoin College currently costs over $76,000) lessons on student debt and college financing remain particularly valuable.

“You want to go to a good school,” said junior Kelsie Carlton. “But looking at those numbers, it’s kind of scary.”

Sam Farrell also teaches pre-calculus and coaches the girls basketball team at Brunswick High School. Contributed / Sam Farrell

“I didn’t know how much (debt) could affect your life until I took this class,” senior Morgan Foster agreed. “If I hadn’t heard about that, I think I would be taking a whole different path when it comes to college.”

After initially looking at schools outside Maine, Foster decided to focus on less expensive in-state options after taking Farrell’s class. Other students use lessons on scholarships and savings to help prepare for college, whether they decide to take on loans or not.

“I support all those options,” Farrell said. “Kids just don’t know enough about what they’re signing up for, and I want them to know what they’re getting themselves into.”

Classes like Farrell’s could help the next generation avoid pitfalls that adults often fall into, said college finance expert Bill Smith, director of ScholarFITS.


“As I talk with people, there’s often not an awareness of how all of the financial pieces of their lives fit together,” said Smith, who works with individual clients and gives presentations through schools, including Brunswick. “A lot of people learn it through hard knocks after they get in trouble. But if they can learn it early enough so that they don’t get in trouble, that’s so much better for everyone.”

“In my opinion, this is one of the most valuable classes kids can take,” said Vice Principal Tim Gagnon.

Besides supporting Farrell’s class as an administrator, Gagnon is among a growing legion of appreciative parents: his son Tucker, a senior, has become a dedicated saver and scholarship hunter under Farrell’s guidance.

“This class should be taught everywhere,” said the younger Gagnon. “It would really change lives. “

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