BANGOR, Maine — There are somewhere between 190,000-230,000 Mainers who started college but never earned a degree, according to the University of Maine System. Officials with UMS want some of those people to finish what they started.
During a Monday Board of Trustees meeting, the System’s Adult Baccalaureate Completion/Distance Education Committee rolled out its recommendations for how to increase the number of adults in Maine who complete their baccalaureate degrees.
A few decades ago, getting a college degree was far from a requirement for many good-paying jobs, so many Americans chose to jump straight from high school into the workforce or to drop out to save money after starting school, said University of Maine at Augusta President Allyson Handley, who served as chairwoman of the ABCDE Committee.
“It’s not optional anymore,” Handley said Monday. More employers are requiring college degrees as prerequisites of employment. By 2018, 60 percent of Maine’s jobs will require post-secondary education, according to the committee. Nationally, President Barack Obama has called for 60 percent of American adults to attain a post-secondary degree by 2025.
“The need to link higher education to career and economic development has never been stronger,” the report states. “The public and individual students expect a return on their investment in higher education, and that return must translate into a quality education and a good job upon graduation.”
In order to draw more of these former students with partially completed degrees back to school, the system will have to work closely with “mature students” — older than 24 — to ease their reentry and find out what took them away from college in the first place. About 39 percent of the University of Maine System’s fall 2012 enrolled students were 24 or older — about 26 percent are over age 30, according to the report.
Finances are a major barrier for adult learners, the committee found after conducting months of interviews and questionnaires. Many who dropped out incurred large amounts of debt at in-state or out-of-state schools before deciding to halt their education. Some who are looking at a return to college have been through layoffs or would have to continue working while attending classes in order to make ends meet.
They also have family obligations or can’t uproot from their homes to live in communities closer to the campuses they would like to attend. To counter that, the system will need to work on its remote and online course offerings
“College graduates tend to have higher incomes, are more active in their communities, less likely to need public assistance or be incarcerated — and most importantly, they tend to pass positive values on higher education on to their children,” said UMS Trustee Bonnie Newsom, who served on the ABCDE committee. “It’s our job to facilitate access for these folks and minimize the institutional barriers that are interfering with their ability to complete their degree.”
Among the recommendations of the committee are:
• Develop a systemwide outreach and communication plan to inform employers, other higher education institutions and state officials of the effort to help Mainers complete their educations.
• Create a “concierge” position at campuses or the system to serve as the point-of-contact for any students who would like to return to school to complete their degree and assist them in those efforts.
• Provide professional development opportunities for faculty to learn how to work effectively with adult students.
• Improve online learning opportunities for adult students who can’t make it to classroom settings because of family or home obligations.
• Incorporate adult degree completion rates into outcomes-based funding models to provide incentives for campuses to bring back more former students.
The system doesn’t have a set number of students it would like to see return to school, but setting those goals will be part of the next phase of the project, according to Handley.
To implement these changes, the committee estimated it would need to secure about $1 million in external scholarship support, and another $400,000-$1 million in operational costs, such as outreach, student support and program development.
However, the committee estimated that for every 10 students who returned to complete their degree needing 60 credits or more, $180,000 in tuition and fees would be generated for the system.
The effort is part of a lengthy list of goals and initiatives adopted by the trustees early last year — ranging from controlling tuition rates to shifting savings from infrastructure and administration to teaching, research and public service — which Chancellor James Page prioritized during his first months in office. Accomplishing this initiative could prove vital to achieving others, such as meeting the needs of Maine’s workforce in the future and keeping up enrollment to control costs of attendance.
In the biennial budget that took effect this month, the Legislature approved $500,000 in funding for the university system to be allocated for scholarships to help adults with prior credits return to school and complete their programs. The system matched that $500,000.
“The University of Maine System is working to develop a plan to direct increased funding to a needs-based scholarship for adults looking to complete their degrees,” Page said. “We feel strongly that a scholarship program focused on this population can have a significant impact on Maine’s skills gap.”
To see the committee’s report on adult baccalaureate completion, visit www.maine.edu/pdf/TAB1.1-ABCDEReportFINALDRAFT.pdf.