The payment is the first in a four-year program that will erase $5 million in student loan debt.
"The Alfond Leaders program drastically shifts the calculus of our family's planning," said Alec Mackenzie, one recipient of the grant. "It eases the student loan debt we have and gives us confidence that we can make our lives here."
Mackenzie studied engineering at Maine Maritime Academy and earned an MBA at Babson College. He says the grant money will potentially give him the resources to hire more people at his Portland-based mechanical engineering firm.
The Alfond Leaders program pays up to 50% of student debt (max. $60,000 per individual) for qualifying Maine residents. To qualify, applicants must commit to working in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field in the state for at least five years.
Applications must include an essay, letter of intent to work and live in Maine for 10 years, a resume, proof of employment and student loan details. Those who are accepted receive payments in two disbursements: one after five years, and the other after ten years.
More than 400 Maine graduates applied for the grants, and only 20 were chosen.
According to Greg Powell, Foundation Chairman, outstanding student debt in Maine has reached $4.8 billion. Many graduates wind up leaving the state to secure higher-paying jobs, he says, which hurts Maine's economy in the long run.
"Given the very competitive applicant pool, the selection process was no easy task," said Powell. "But with this new group of outstanding professionals, and those chosen in the future, the foundation will be as pleased to help pay down their college debt as we are to have them here in Maine contributing to our economy."
About 63% of college graduates in Maine have student loan debt, with the average balance at $29,644. Student debt in the United States, as a whole, has ballooned up to $1.4 trillion, an increase of about 170% since 2006.
The application period for the second round of grant awardees is underway. The deadline for nominations has been set for November 15, 2017, and the second round of awardees will be announced at the end of the year.
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