The Alfond Scholarship Foundation (ASF) and the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) announced today that they are partnering to launch a first-in-the-state program called Invest in ME Kindergarten. It’s designed to inspire Maine families with children entering kindergarten in the fall of 2018 to prepare early for future higher education, including potential associated costs.
“The start of this school year is special for us since it marks the moment when the first big wave of those babies who were born in 2013 and automatically awarded the $500 Alfond Grant now arrive in Maine’s kindergartens” said Colleen J. Quint, President and CEO of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation. “We hope Maine families and Maine educators think of kindergarten as the first step to higher education.”
“Changing how Mainers plan and prepare for higher education may have far-reaching and long-term implications for Maine. It can mean an increase in the number of higher education credentials in the workforce,” said Bruce Wagner, CEO of FAME.
According to FAME Director of Education Martha Johnston, “Invest in ME Kindergarten is just another way we are actively reaching Maine families to help them afford higher education. There are many steps that Maine families can take to encourage their children to aspire to higher education.”
In March, FAME and ASF invited Maine’s elementary schools to participate in Invest in ME Kindergarten by encouraging them to apply to become one of the program’s County Champion Schools. More than 50 schools applied, and 12 were selected as the initiative’s first County Champion Schools, with 41 additional schools involved as Champion Schools. All 53 schools will receive tools and resources throughout the year to help families and children aspire to and prepare for higher education. A list of all participating schools and additional resources for families and educators can be found at BrightFutureForME.com.
The 12 County Champion schools will receive additional incentives to help engage families, including a Bright Future Fun Pack filled with engaging materials for each kindergarten student; an Invest in ME Kindergarten banner for their school to hang; and a $500 grant to support Invest in ME Kindergarten initiatives hosted by the school.
The 12 County Champion Schools are:
- Walton Elementary School – Androscoggin County
- Mill Pond School – Aroostook County
- Riverton Community School – Cumberland County
- Rangeley Lakes Regional School – Franklin County
- Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School – Hancock County
- Winthrop Grade School – Kennebec County
- Warren Community School – Knox County
- Miller School – Lincoln County
- Woodstock Elementary School – Oxford County
- Abraham Lincoln School – Penobscot County
- Alexander Elementary School – Washington County
- Governor John Fairfield School – York County
Encouraging Maine Families to Take an Important Next Step
Kindergarten is a good time for families to think about saving for higher education because some may have space in their budget because of reduced child care expenses as their kindergartener enters school. According to the Center for Social Development, low and moderate-income children with college savings between $1 and $499 are 3 times more likely to attend to college and 4 times more likely to graduate. “We want to encourage families to consider converting those child care dollars, or at least a portion of them, into saving for higher education, especially since they’re already used to living without that income,” said Johnston.
Kindergarten Year – A Good Time to Start Saving
- FAME encourages Maine families to take an all-important next step and open their own accounts to invest in their children’s future. Maine’s Section 529 plan, administered by FAME, is NextGen 529TM, . Families with a child awarded the $500 Alfond Grant can use the grant to open a NextGen 529 account for the child, with no initial contribution. Once they have a NextGen 529 account, parents, grandparents and friends can make regular contributions to the account and help create a bright future for their child. They may even be able to take advantage of NextGen 529 matching grants for Maine residents.
- Through the Invest in ME Kindergarten initiative, FAME and ASF will highlight the difference between the $500 Alfond Grant and a college savings account. The $500 Alfond Grant is awarded to all babies born Maine residents on or after January 1, 2013. It is a grant that can be used, similar to a scholarship, for higher education. It is not an account to which people can make contributions.
NextGen is a Section 529 plan administered by the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). Before you invest in NextGen, request a NextGen Program Description from your Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor or Maine Distribution Agent or call Merrill Edge at 1-877-463-9843 and read it carefully. The Program Description contains more complete information, including investment objectives, charges, expenses and risks of investing in NextGen, which you should carefully consider before investing. You also should consider whether your or your designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in such state’s 529 plan. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated, a registered broker-dealer, member SIPC, is the program manager and underwriter.
About the Alfond Scholarship Foundation & The Alfond Grant
Harold Alfond was a Maine businessman and philanthropist who wanted every Maine baby to have the opportunity that higher education brings. The Alfond Scholarship Foundation (ASF) is a non-profit organization he created to invest the $500 Alfond Grant at birth for every Maine resident baby for their future education. The Alfond Grant is the grant awarded to all babies born Maine residents on or after January 1, 2013. For Maine children born 2008-2012 the grant was available on a more limited basis. To learn more about the grant and eligibility, see guidelines at MyAlfondGrant.org.
New Kindergarten Program Part of Multi-Year Statewide Effort
The Invest in ME Kindergarten program is an initiative tied to the larger statewide Invest in ME 2030 effort that began in 2016. At that time, FAME set a significant goal that all Maine families are saving for higher education and Maine will have one of the lowest average student loan debt rates in the nation by 2030.
Invest in ME 2030 is designed to draw attention to the economic impact an under-educated workforce and growing student debt are having on Maine, and stress the importance of starting to save for higher education early.
“Maine is currently facing a crisis — many of the state’s employers are having difficulty finding suitable candidates to fill positions that require some form of education after high school. This shortfall of skilled workers can result in slow economic growth for the state,” said Bruce Wagner, CEO of FAME. In fact, according to Maine Spark, Maine needs 65,000+ more educated workers by 2025. If Maine were to grow 65,000 more jobs, 60% of the workforce would need education beyond high school to meet future workforce demands.
Additionally, helping Maine’s children actively save and prepare for higher education can help alleviate their need to borrow more later. About 55 percent of Maine college students graduate with debt and the average student loan debt per student in Maine is $31,295, ranking Maine 8th highest when compared to other states says the Institute of for College Access & Success. According to American Student Assistance, student debt limits graduates’ job choice and their ability to launch a new business, buy a home, start a family and save for retirement.
Since 2008, over $44 million has been invested by the Alfond Scholarship Foundation to fund the $500 Alfond Grant1 for more than 88,000 Maine children. To date over 37,000 NextGen 529 accounts have been opened with the Alfond Grant and contributions to those accounts have totaled more than $60 million. And FAME has invested $8.7 million in NextGen 529 Matching Grants to accounts with an Alfond Grant beneficiary. When Alfond Grants, contributions to those accounts and NextGen 529 Matching Grants to those accounts are combined, it means that over $112 million has been invested for the future education of these 88,000 Maine children!
 Children born as Maine residents since January 1, 2013 or who are Maine residents at account opening and under the age of one are eligible for the Alfond Grant. See Guidelines at NextGenForME.com/guidelines
 Grants are linked to eligible Maine accounts. Upon withdrawal, grants are paid only to institutions of higher education. See Terms & Conditions of Maine Grant Programs for other conditions and restrictions that apply at MyAlfondGrant.org/guidelines