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April 19, 2010 Perspectives

Is a degree for every Maine worker possible?

Director of Adult Education in Wiscasset and student in the Doctor of Higher Education Leadership program at the University of Maine


While Mainers are pretty good at earning a high school credential, the state ranks well below its neighbors in achievement of degrees. Higher levels of education mean higher salaries and lower rates of unemployment, which is why those hit hardest by the recent economy include the majority of workers in this state. Year after year, Maine tops the list of worst states for business due to the low educational attainment of its work force. A degree in the hand of every working Mainer would make this an attractive state to entice young families and big business.

Sixty-five percent of high growth/high wage jobs in the Pine Tree State require at least some college. So, how do we get more degrees in Maine? A rapidly aging population and the exodus of college-going youth from this state mean we must raise the educational attainment of adults currently in the work force. The most skilled, experienced and connected workers in this state will retire within 15 years, leaving a huge gap that must be filled with qualified workers — workers who currently are getting by on less than family-sustaining wages, probably on public assistance and most likely have a low level of education.

Non-traditional students face many obstacles when they return to school, from weak academic skills to inexperience with college culture, procedures and use of technology. Many are working parents who struggle to juggle work, family, classes and mounds of homework. Most give up. Some don’t apply when they find their financial aid award doesn’t meet the cost of attending college. Still others cannot afford the cost of both college and childcare.

Fortunately, there are programs to help adults improve their education. The University of Maine System offers an abundance of distance courses, and the Rural Maine Childcare Initiative assists parents with childcare while they attend a community college. Most campuses also offer a variety of student support services. However, the biggest hurdles come before these students even begin college: namely, awareness and aspirations for college, academic readiness and an understanding of how to navigate the systems. The Maine College Transition Program was developed to address these issues through adult education.

The goal of Maine College Transitions is to raise student performance on college placement tests, while providing a comprehensive program on college preparation and success. Students learn time management, reading and note taking, stress management and career exploration, while receiving support and encouragement from other non-traditional students who are facing similar life challenges. Participants visit colleges, meet with counselors, and receive help with filing financial aid forms and college applications. College Transitions is tremendously successful in preparing adults for a successful college experience.

Maine needs to reward adults for choosing to enter postsecondary education, becoming equipped with the skills to persist and utilizing resources to continue to degree completion. A program should be established for Maine adults who successfully complete a College Transitions program that provides a $2,500 cash grant over and above their financial aid award. Further, by maintaining a C+ average and utilizing institutional support services, they will continue to receive these funds for four years. This program will cover some of the unmet financial need facing most Mainers who want to go to college, while ensuring that they first obtain the skills that will make them successful in school. With a plan like this, I think it is truly possible for every Maine worker to earn a degree.


“Perspectives” welcomes all viewpoints on the Maine economy. Submissions should be under 650 words and e-mailed to Please include your name, title, company and where your company is located.


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