UMFK president pledges scholarships

Posted Aug. 27, 2010, at 9:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:53 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Officials at the University of Maine at Fort Kent have dangled a very attractive carrot in front of the members of the incoming high school Class of 2014.

At an orientation held at the university earlier this month for Fort Kent Community High School freshmen, Wilson Hess, UMFK president, announced a $1,000 scholarship for each student upon their graduation.

To earn the one-time award, Hess said, students must graduate from Fort Kent Community High School on time, and qualify for and enroll in academic degree programs at UMFK.

“One of the things we see [across the University of Maine System] is a growing disparity between the declining number of high school graduates and the needs of the state’s work force,” Hess said. “Over the next decade there are predicted to be 175,000 open positions requiring baccalaureate or master’s degrees as people retire.”

While Maine does show a higher high school graduation rate based on a national average, Hess said, it falters on the number of those graduates who go on to college or a university.

“We are partnering with local schools to help increase aspirations for younger children and within the family to go on to higher education if that is indeed what the student wants to do,” Hess said. “You need to start these things in your own backyard.”

Fort Kent’s high school is literally in the UMFK campus backyard with the two institutions sharing a common driveway off Pleasant Street.

For Hess, who took over as UMFK’s president in July, the scholarship offer just makes sense.

“One of the things we’ve seen is when folks come in and put this sort of incentive in front of [high school] students, it tends to have remarkable results in terms of aspirations,” he said. “It’s already generated interest and it’s been a lot of fun to have parents or grandparents come up to me on the street and say they’ve heard the kids talking about it.”

Hess said the initiative is funded through the university’s existing foundation with endowed funds.

“I do believe the UMFK foundation is willing to say they would like to take a program like this and see what we can do to raise funds for a dedicated program for other schools in the St. John Valley,” the university president said.

Over the next four years Hess said, UMFK personnel will remain accessible to the high school students to help guide them on an academic track leading to university admission.

“We were just astonished and think it is great,” Tim Doak, principal at the high school, said. “It’s another tribute to the relationship we have with UMFK and an example of the neatness of having a college and high school so close together.”

Doak said the full ramifications of the offer did not immediately sink into the minds of the Class of 2014.

“When we got back to the school I put it all into real dollar amounts,” Doak said.

He said he told the youngsters that if 70 of them went on to UMFK that would mean a total gift of $70,000 “and that really impressed them.”

Traditionally a good percentage of the high school’s graduates enroll at UMFK, Doak said, adding that the scholarship incentive is “a great move to keep kids in the St. John Valley and in Maine.”

The fall 2010 semester at UMFK begins next week.

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