PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook County residents who have lost their jobs because of the crumbling economy are not sitting back and waiting for better times.
A large number of them are heading back to school, and Northern Maine Community College officials said Tuesday that the influx of students has led in part to the college having its busiest summer session in recent memory.
“We have seen the enrollment climb this summer, and a lot of that is due to the number of workers who have been laid off and are returning to school,” NMCC President Tim Crowley said Tuesday afternoon. “The summer enrollment is big, and we expect that the fall enrollment will be big as well.”
The spike in enrollment comes on the heels of a double-digit enrollment increase in the previous academic year for the Presque Isle college.
NMCC officials said the recent addition and expansion of new degree programs in allied health and wind power technology have contributed to the enrollment jump. They also attributed it to advances in new technology and outreach to communities and businesses throughout The County.
After a large number of layoffs hit the region around the beginning of the year, NMCC created a section of classes for displaced workers. The special section began in March and was designed to accommodate workers, especially those in the forest products industry, who were laid off in the days and weeks before the start of the NMCC spring semester in January. The layoffs came too late for most workers to enroll at NMCC in time for the spring semester.
Most of the laid-off workers were eligible for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance through the U.S. Department of Labor. The TAA initiative offers up to two years of occupational training and education assistance to qualified participants. The assistance helps workers who have lost their jobs as a result of increased imports or a shift of production outside the United States.
Forty-five students enrolled in the special NMCC section, which will continue through the summer. The students will matriculate into specific degree programs at the start of the next semester.
Albert Nadeau, 31, of Presque Isle was one of those taking part in the special section. Nadeau enrolled at NMCC after he was laid off from Fraser Timber Inc. earlier this year.
“I am working towards an associate’s degree in accounting information systems,” he said Tuesday. “I would say that the bulk of my classmates are those who have been laid off from jobs.”
Nadeau said he always dreamed of going to college but never pursued it until he was laid off.
“I never thought that something like that would happen,” he acknowledged Tuesday. “I just never thought I would lose my job.”
Nadeau said he hopes to remain in the area after receiving his degree.
Another student, Ashland resident Tanya Clark, 35, also lost her job when Fraser laid off workers at its Masardis mill.
“I was laid off in December and started classes at NMCC in March,” said Clark, who is pursuing an associate degree in medical assisting. “I think that NMCC has gone out of its way to help us find new career choices.”
Clark said some of her classmates also were once her colleagues.
Other changes at NMCC also are responsible for the enrollment jump, according to college officials.
Over the past year, NMCC developed New England’s first wind power technology program and graduated its first medical assisting students. NMCC also has doubled the number of students enrolled in its distance education nursing program in southern Aroostook. With that, NMCC opened the first Allied Health Simulation Center north of Bangor, along with a new Business Technology Center.
The college recently was recognized by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of New England Association of School and Colleges, which is the accrediting body for postsecondary schools throughout the Northeast. The commission recently granted continued accreditation to NMCC and lauded the institution for its work with student development and community outreach.