HOULTON, Maine — Six second-year nursing students, who learned in May a number of changes would be made at Northern Maine Community College because of significant spending cuts, will receive tuition assistance to help them complete the program, college officials recently announced.
The news came last week, just as the six students enrolled in the program at the Houlton Higher Education Center were preparing to return for fall semester classes. The money is coming from special scholarship dollars for tuition from the Maine Community College System and the Northern Maine Community College Foundation, according to information provided by NMCC. Each of the six nursing students will receive two $500 scholarships, one for the fall semester and another in the spring semester. No more students will enter the program in Houlton. Nursing only will be offered at the Presque Isle campus.
In May, officials at Northern Maine Community College announced they needed to make severe cutbacks to offset a nearly half-million dollar budget deficit, citing increased operational costs, flat state appropriations and anticipated flat or slightly decreased enrollment for the fall semester.
The cuts in services and personnel included a nursing position at the Houlton Higher Education Center, which upset the nursing students who were pursuing their degrees there. The students feared additional costs for travel and child care because of the need to commute the 42 miles to the Presque Isle campus to finish their degrees, as well as the potential loss of some of the hands-on instruction they had been receiving in Houlton.
Four faculty positions were lost to the budget crunch. One was the nursing position at the Houlton center, one in arts and sciences and two in business technology. The nursing program at NMCC remains ongoing.
Thirty-three students graduated from NMCC’s nursing program in May 2014.
“Even though some of the second-year course work always had to be completed on the Presque Isle campus of NMCC, these students had an expectation that most of their classes could take place in Houlton,” Dottie Martin, academic dean, said. “Now that a majority of the course work must be completed in Presque Isle, we understand it will be a hardship for some of the students. We are very happy to be able to help by identifying additional tuition assistance. Any savings can be used to defray travel or other costs.”
Several classes will continue to be held in Houlton through the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s polycom system. Afterwhich, all nursing classes will be taught in Presque Isle, according to Bernard.
Sue Bernard, director of development and community relations for NMCC, said Wednesday the college was happy they were able to help the six students. She said several of the nursing classes still will be held in Presque Isle, and she acknowledged several of the students expressed fear about getting to class when there was a winter storm or other inclement weather in southern Aroostook and not in Presque Isle.
“Obviously I can’t speak for the professors, but I think that is something they will have to take up with them,” she said. “We have a lot of southern Aroostook students who get to campus when the weather is bad. But obviously we want them to care about their personal safety.”
Second-year student Cara Brinkerhoff of Linneus said Wednesday the tuition assistance will “definitely help.”
“It’s not my favorite solution,” she said. “We as students got together and looked at our schedules and found out that we would have a total of 60 classroom days, and we will be up in Presque Isle 26 days. Normally, in the past, we would have been up there eight days.”
However, Brinkeroff said the nursing students were “relieved” to find out they would still be performing their clinical rotations — the portion of their studies where they work one-on-one with patients — in the southern Aroostook area in facilities such as Houlton Regional Hospital.
Brinkerhoff said she still is concerned about driving in inclement weather but is focusing on the upcoming school year.
“I think we are all so overwhelmed and nervous,” she said Wednesday. “We just want school to start and see what’s going to happen.”