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Unfinished Business: Helping Maine Adults Get Back to School

PHOTO: Joan Macri is Associate Director of College for ME-Androscoggin, one of the institutions administering scholarships for adults seeking college degrees under a new program from the Maine Community Foundation. Photo courtesy College for ME-Androscoggin.
PHOTO: Joan Macri is Associate Director of College for ME-Androscoggin, one of the institutions administering scholarships for adults seeking college degrees under a new program from the Maine Community Foundation. Photo courtesy College for ME-Androscoggin.
September 11, 2014

LEWISTON, Maine - Mainers outside traditional college age are getting scholarship assistance to enroll in college or pick up where they left off because of financial constraints, marriage, children or simply dropping out. It's a pilot program run by the Maine Community Foundation called the Adult Learner Partnership. Educational institutions and nonprofits are administering the scholarships, usually to the tune of a $1,000 each. Jan Phillips, executive director of College for ME-Androscoggin, says they have seven people in the pilot program and earlier, similar grant support has been a success.

"We had a great example of somebody who had been out of school for 32 years, was two courses short of finishing and the scholarship helped her finish," Phillips says.

The people behind the program dismiss the notion that college degrees may no longer be worth the cost because of the amount of debt students take on. They point to sustained higher earning potential and say getting more Maine adults back to school can only help the state's economy.

Cherie Galyean, education and scholarship manager of the Maine Community Foundation, says she hears people saying 'What good is a college diploma if there are no well-paying jobs when I graduate?'

"Overall, the statistics do not bear that out," Galyean says. "We're still seeing a huge, huge lifetime-wage gap between people with a high school degree and people with a college degree."

A May report from the Maine Development Foundation pegged that gap at $400,000 in wages.

Galyean says the Adult Learner Partnership is doing its part to address the student loan debt problem.

"All we can do is keep trying to ensure students have choices, that they're well-informed about the value of a degree and how to best maximize their financial aid," Galyean says. "Hopefully, through education and actual dollars through this program, we can help cut that debt number."

Phillips gives the program a thumbs-up.

"They're aren't a lot of scholarships for adults out there; they're mostly for kids coming right out of high school. We think this is a great way to help support adults."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME