In BDN Maine’s recent project on ways to grow the economy, we identified education as one of the top-three drivers of economic growth and an area where Maine can greatly improve — specifically by getting more low-income students through some type of college.

For the high school graduating class of 2008, just 40 percent of lower-income students graduated from a four-year college in six years, compared with 60 percent of students from higher-income families, according to the Mitchell Institute, which conducts research on education topics in Maine.

Maine students who attend four-year colleges graduate with an average of nearly $31,000 in debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. That’s the sixth highest average in the nation. Sixty-eight percent of students graduate with some debt, according to the organization.

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According to the Finance Authority of Maine, only 62 percent of high school seniors in the state had filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid by last May.

The organization, which is holding sessions where financial aid experts help students fill out FAFSA forms, says that’s a problem.

“Completing the FAFSA as early as possible is one of the best ways to minimize student loan borrowing,” Martha Johnston, Director of Education at FAME, said in a news release. “Too often, students fail to complete the FAFSA or submit it after critical deadlines. These students miss out on potential grants and end up borrowing more than they would have needed to, if only they had filed the FAFSA on time. Significant financial aid does exist and the earlier families apply the more aid they may be able to receive.”

FAME is holding 22 FAFSA help sessions next month. Here is the list showing where and when they are.

Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the...