FORT KENT, Maine — Proponents of higher education always want people to go on to college, but they also realize that there are a number of barriers in place that can steer a teenager away from the university setting and into the work force.
Officials at the University of Maine at Fort Kent are working to dissolve some of those barriers by launching a unique pilot program for high school students.
College administrators announced on Thursday that UMFK will host the new Early College High School program. The program will all high school juniors and seniors to complete requirements for their high school diplomas while also earning college credits, possibly enough to complete an associate’s degree or up to two years on a bachelor’s degree.
The program is based on the Early College High School Initiative sponsored by the Gates Foundation and other national philanthropic foundations.
UMFK President Wilson Hess said Friday that officials hope to partner with three high schools in a two year period as part of the project. Students in the program will replace their core high school classes with more advanced college courses.
“We have good high school graduation rates in Maine, but we don’t have as good a percentage of students who go on to college,” Hess said. “The notion of going into debt for a college education is daunting to many people. But if they can get some of that work in high school, they can cut thousands of dollars off the bill.”
The project will begin this fall as a partnership between UMFK and AOS 95/SAD 27, which operates Fort Kent Community High School. The AOS serves Fort Kent, Allagash, St. Francis, St. John Plantation, New Canada, Wallagrass, Eagle Lake and Winterville. The program will expand the second year to more than a dozen other communities in the St. John Valley. By year three, the program will be fully operational, educating up to 150 juniors and seniors.
Scott Voisine, dean of students at UMFK, will be overseeing the program on campus. Voisine stressed that the ECHS program is in its infancy and that officials are still fine tuning it. At this point, he said Friday, the college is looking at several ways to finance the program. They have received funding from the University of Maine System, and Voisine said that UMFK will make adjustments to the courses offered as part of the pilot program to make it financially viable for students. The sending school also likely will pass on a portion of the subsidy it receives from the state to educate students to UMFK, he said. Some money also will come from scholarships and contributions from the student’s family.
Voisine estimated that about 20 students would participate in the first year of the program.
Hess said that ECHS will improve high school graduation rates and better prepare students for high-skilled degrees and careers by engaging them in a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. It also will improve high school students’ access to college and lead to higher student completion rates of college programs.
Students in the program also will be better prepared to enter the work force and UMFK will see more students receiving baccalaureate degrees as well.
The courses will be taught both at the high school and at UMFK.
“This program is going to open doors for students,” Hess said Friday. “From what I have heard, people in the community and SAD 27 are pretty excited about this. It is a wonderful program.”