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January 25, 2019

UMaine Farmington receives $3.2M donation to fund student-retention initiatives

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The University of Maine at Farmington has been given $3.225 million by two anonymous donors that will be used to create a fund that will support a number of initiatives designed to keep students in school and stay on track to graduate.

The University of Maine at Farmington has been given $3.225 million by two anonymous donors that will be used to create a fund that will support a number of initiatives designed to keep students in school and stay on track to graduate.

The donation, which the two donors made together, is the second largest the school has ever received, according to a news release Thursday. The largest was $5 million in 2002 to build the Emery Arts Center, which opened in 2011.

The latest donation will be used to create Catalyst Fund at UMF, which will implement and expand initiatives that bolster financial aid, stimulate student success, advance graduate education programs and more.

Interim President Eric Brown called the donation "transformative" in a Thursday news release.

"[The] gift provides us with an infusion of vital resources for debt-relieving scholarships, our successful graduate school offerings and programs that promote student persistence, he said. "By making UMF a philanthropic priority, the donors have signaled their strong belief in our values, our mission, and our institutional goals. We are incredibly fortunate to have their leadership and this magnitude of support."

Keeping students on track

Jared Cash, vice president of enrollment and external affairs, said that all of the student-focused initiatives that will receive investments through the fund will help students "pursue their intellectual interests, achieve their career goals and add to the human capital of the Maine economy."

"The legacy of the donors' gift will be increased achievement, well-being and career readiness among our students," he said.

A major part of the Catalyst Fund will be creation of the Persistence Scholarship Program, which will provide students with a merit scholarship that will help those who are academically on track to graduate in four years.

Beginning in the fall, in addition to their financial aid packages, all full-time students with a 2.75 grade point average in their second, third and fourth years will receive annual scholarships.

The initiative, focused on student success, has been crafted to encourage students to finish in four years, which will help reduce their student debt.

A study released in December found that there is $6 billion in student debt in Maine, and it has an impact on everything from graduation rates to students being able to buy homes or cars after graduation.

UMF, a four-year liberal arts college, has 1,564 undergraduate students; 81% of them are from Maine.

"Consistent with a national trend, UMF serves a student body that is tuned into affordability and thinking responsibly about how finance a high quality education experience," Cash said. "Our students who stay on course and graduate in four years are graduating with significantly lower debt levels than peers who remain enrolled five and six years to finish."

Cash said Friday that UMF's graduation rates have been trending up for the last three years, while the six-year rate collected by most national data reports has remained more steady.

Some 44.6% of the class of 2018 graduated in four years; 45.2% of the class of 2017 and 37.9% of the class of 2016.

Some 56.4% of the class of 2018 graduated in five years or less, compared with 50.9% of the class of 2017 and 48% of the class of 2016. The university is tied with the University of Maine's flagship school in Orono of the seven universities in the system for overall graduation rate at 57%.

He said the rates don't include students who start at UMF and finish at other universities.

In a study done of the 2013 school year, the statewide rate for students at Maine's eight public four-year colleges, which also includes the Maine Maritime Academy, was 28.3% after four years and 47.8% after six years. At the time of the Chronicle of Higher Education study, Maine was 40th among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

Impact will be felt this year

Other initiatives that will be support by the Catalyst Fund include:

  • A designated number of full-time students with unforeseen financial hardship will be eligible to receive an emergency grant to help them remain at UMF and complete their degree. Cash said Friday the one-time emergency grants are for "students who do not have a safety net to dip into when [they have] unforeseen financial hardships." The grants "help students overcome adversity that jeopardizes their persistence towards graduation."
  • Expansion of graduate-level professional development, certificate and master's degree programs that align with UMF's mission and strengths and speak to Maine's ongoing need for career-ready, skilled professionals.

Brown said the effects of the donors' philanthropic leadership will be felt as early as the coming months with Persistence Scholarships awards, as well as plans to increase first-year student enrollment in the University's Summer Experience, a program that helps students prepare for the transition from high school to college.

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