Most news media in Maine recently covered the heartwarming story of Chelsea Edgar of Whitefield, who was the first recipient of a new state-issued high school diploma.
Because of this program, Chelsea, obviously a bright young woman, will be able to attend Kennebec Valley Community College this fall. This is a great example of how the state can work to create an education system that is focused on the individual and responsive to their needs.
Another recent, innovative step towards accessible, affordable and personalized education was the creation of the Opportunity Maine program. Any post-secondary education policy wonk will tell you that back-end tax credits, while politically popular, do little to increase access to college. By presenting the Opportunity Maine tax credits as a contract and a guarantee, however, the drafters of this legislation have created a system that may make it easier at the front-end as well and increase both access to education and the retention of skilled graduates without high burdens of debt. I hope they're studying the results closely to see how it works.
I've worked as an advocate for higher education for the past two years, and I can see that Maine has some unique needs and opportunities in this sector. Two of the biggest hurdles for the state are making the transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based one and dealing with state demographics that trend towards the elderly. An increased focus on college education could be the answer to both.
Opportunity Maine was a great first step in another respect as well - it brought students together to advocate for their own interests. It would be fantastic if those seeds could grow into a permanent student lobby. College students seem to be one of the few interests in Maine not well-represented in Augusta, despite their importance to the future of the state.