Why am I, the president of the University of Maine at Augusta, writing a column that will be read by people living a hundred miles or more from my Augusta campus? Because I want you to know that wherever you are, there’s a Maine university for you.
If you happen to live in the Bangor metro region, for example, you likely know of the excellent programs offered at the University of Maine System’s flagship campus, the University of Maine.
You may be less aware of UMA Bangor, the Bangor campus of the University of Maine at Augusta. About 1,000 students are enrolled on our Bangor campus, earning baccalaureate and select associate degrees in such programs as dental hygiene, business, vet tech, computer information systems, mental health, human services, and more.
While UMA Bangor students prepare for careers in these and other fields, they also benefit from substantial campus investments UMA has made in recent years. Improvements include the addition of a new library and writing center, upgraded classrooms, new labs and the complete renovation of three buildings. A state-of-the-art dental hygiene clinic will be completed this summer.
With all these upgrades, there has never been a better time to enroll at UMA Bangor. But what if you don’t live within commuting distance of UMA Bangor? Again, wherever you are, there is a Maine university for you.
Folks in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Machias are well aware of the wonderful state universities that grace their towns, but thanks to a growing number of online offerings and a statewide network of University College centers, there is easy access to university courses and programs wherever one happens to live.
Among the statewide network of centers are those located in Houlton, Dover-Foxcroft, East Millinocket, Ellsworth and Rockland. And with respect to online offerings, business, as they say, is booming. At UMA, for example, it is our largest growth area. Recently, the University of Maine System has gone live with Online.Maine, a website providing information on entire programs one can take from a distance.
I have so far focused on the phrase “wherever you are” in terms of location. However, the phrase also has another key meaning: “wherever you are” in life.
The truth is it is never too late to pursue a college education. In fact, more than 70 percent of UMA students are adults who have returned to the classroom. Indeed, it is one of my greatest delights at UMA graduations to watch the parents receive their diploma while their proud children watch, as opposed to the “traditional” other way around.
Many of our adult applicants approach us with three concerns on their minds: They worry they will feel out of place at college, they fear they are not cut out for college, and they believe they could never afford it anyway. None of these concerns need be true.
As far as feeling out of place, our adult students quickly see there are many students who look exactly like them. Moreover, they discover the blend of young and older students creates a unique and exciting learning environment where everyone benefits. “UMA feels like real life,” I’ve heard one of our students say.
As far as succeeding in the classroom, our adult learners find that our supportive environment, small classes and caring faculty help them to flourish. Plus our flexible schedule, online offerings and the choice to go full-time or part-time makes UMA a perfect fit for people who need to juggle work and family responsibilities.
As far as paying for college, so many of our students are surprised how affordable UMA is. Our public school tuition rate is thousands less than most places, and over 85 percent of our students receive financial aid. Many of UMA’s aid packages actually pay the entire cost of tuition.
Yet, whether our financial aid can pay the entire cost of tuition or just a part of it, I can assure you that in the end a university education will pay far more than it ever costs you. Studies show that Maine workers with a bachelor’s degree earn almost 50 percent more than those without, earning an average of $1 million more in a lifetime.
So wherever you are in life and wherever you are in Maine, it is never too late to go to college. And it is always a good idea.
Allyson Handley is president of the University of Maine at Augusta/Bangor and chairwoman of the Maine Higher Education Council, www.CollegeInMaine.org.