The new program comes at a time when New Hampshire has the dubious distinction of having the highest average student debt load in the country for the seventh year in a row, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.
The institute announced this fall that students who graduated from New Hampshire colleges in 2011 owed an average of $32,450 in loans. Massachusetts ranked 14th on the list at $27,181; the nationwide average was $26,600.
Shaheen said high student loan debt shouldn’t prevent students from pursuing certain career goals. She said capping monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income should help ease some financial burden.
Tara Payne, vice president of college planning for the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation, said the program will certainly lessen the financial stress on recent college graduates.
“This is a step in the right direction,” she said. “Hopefully, this is a help for people beginning in their careers.”
Payne said the program is ideal for students who enter low-paying fields and plan to remain in those careers for a long time.
“In many ways, these programs are intended for a person who starts off in a social service program and plans on staying in it,” she said.
Otherwise, their payments will increase sharply if they switch to a higher-paying field or get married. Payments are based on total household income, she said. Payne recommends borrowers stay in close contact with their loan provider.
College officials aren’t the only financial aid experts just learning about the program. High school guidance counselors are just receiving word as well, including Londonderry High School guidance director Michael Dolphin.
Dolphin criticized Pay As You Earn because students must have a financial hardship to benefit, and he thinks a lot of students won’t qualify.
Reduced state funding for New Hampshire’s college and university system has made it difficult for many to pursue higher education, Dolphin said.
“No one ever said the students are the most important thing in this state,” he said. “Let’s do something more than just help the hardship kids.”
For more information on Pay As You Earn, go to