CLIFTON, Maine — Tina Hinkley has emphasized the importance of getting good grades with her daughter Ashley Hinkley, 18, since she was in kindergarten.
“I’m big on grades,” Tina Hinkley said, seated on the couch at their home Saturday. “I figure she’s not going to go anywhere if she doesn’t put in the time.”
Though Hinkley, who works at FairPoint Communications, did not attend college herself, she said she always felt her daughter would need to in order to be successful.
“When I graduated, you got into the workforce and you earned money,” she said. “That’s not the case now.”
Ashley graduated in June and is Brewer High School’s Mitchell Scholar this year. Every year, the scholarship is awarded by the Mitchell Institute, a nonprofit organization that was founded by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, to one graduate from each of Maine’s 140 high schools. Recipients must have a financial need, perform well academically and contribute to their community in some way.
Nearly half of the Mitchell Scholars this year are first-generation college students.
“Those are the kids that need financial support and cultural support,” Meg Baxter, president of the Mitchell Institute, said.
Parents who went to college may be more familiar with the onslaught of paperwork and deadlines that come with the college application process, the availability of scholarships and the feeling of leaving home for the first time to become part of a large institution.
Ashley Hinkley said her mom was diligent about keeping her on track during the application process, even though Tina Hinkley did not go through the process herself.
“We didn’t know exactly where to start, but Mom has been helping me,” she said. “She had a rough idea of everything.”
Tina Hinkley said she tried to “drive home to her the fact that everything has a deadline,” an effort that “might have driven her a little crazy,” she said.
When considering annual income levels, Tina Hinkley is correct about the importance of a college degree. In 2012, Maine residents with bachelor’s degrees had a median income of about $40,000, while those with only a high school diploma earned closer to $26,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 1999, however, the income gap between high school and college graduates was about $5,000 narrower, according to a report from the Maine Compact for Higher Education, an initiative to improve education attainment in Maine. Though high school graduates in Maine are earning about the same income they were 15 years ago, the median income for college graduates has gone up.
Once students win the Mitchell Scholarship, they become part of a network of scholarship recipients who can participate in programs designed to help them to a degree, Baxter said. At events, the scholars are introduced to professionals in the fields in which they plan to work, given help with resume writing and interview techniques and offered opportunities to apply for further scholarships that support their professional endeavors.
About 85 percent of Mitchell Scholars earn a degree within six years, according to Baxter, compared with 50 percent nationally.
The Mitchell Institute’s scholarship program is growing. This year’s recipients will receive $7,000 toward their postsecondary education to be distributed over the course of four years. This year’s recipients are receiving $1,000 more than the amount last year’s recipients are receiving. Baxter said the institute’s goal is to be offering $10,000 to scholars who graduate from high school three years from now.
By then, Ashley Hinkley likely will be closing in on her degree. She will attend the University of Maine at Farmington, where she plans to study elementary education and possibly minor in special education.
She is one of 111 Mitchell scholarship recipients who have chosen to attend colleges in Maine this year, with 41 going to the University of Maine in Orono. Many others will attend schools throughout New England, including Harvard University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with one student going as far as Evergreen State College in Washington state.
Hinkley said it was her teachers and her experience working with special education students in the resource room at Brewer High School that inspired her to choose that career path.
Follow Nell Gluckman on Twitter @nellgluckman.