In an effort to help students deal with mounting college debt—as well as inspire those graduates to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)—the Alfond Foundation announced this week a new student loan debt relief program for Maine graduates.

According to the press release, residents working at local businesses in a STEM field will be eligible to apply for the program as part of a new statewide initiative offered by the foundation. The relief will be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.

The Alfond Foundation will contribute $5.5 million to jumpstart the program, and pay up to 50% of a STEM student’s debt with a cap at $60,000 total which sounds like forgiveness. However, in return, the graduate must commit to working in the state for at least five years. Candidates do not have to be native to Maine as long as they agree to work in the state for the minimum amount of time.

Student Loan Forgiveness Begins in 2017

The program hopes to select 150 candidates over the next three years, all of whom will be chosen through a rigorous application process.

The program hopes to fix two big problems in the state: Maine has a high number of student borrowers with 63% of students owing student debt. Most student borrowers end up owing an average of $28,000 in student debt, but Maine borrowers can find themselves owing nearly $30,000, slightly above an already high average.

On top of this, many Maine students are leaving the state for better-paying jobs which leads to shortages of qualified employees in the STEM field. The hope is that this student loan debt relief program will encourage those candidates to stay in the state long-term.

“We want to help this happen by funding student debt reduction to recruit and retain STEM workers,” Alfond Foundation Chairman Greg Powell said.

Image Copyright Paul VanDerWerf. (Some edits made)