BANGOR, Maine — When Bangor Fire Department firefighter and paramedic John Miller, 42, retires some day, he hopes to find a career in the private sector that is less physical. He earned an associate degree in legal technology from the University of Maine in 1993, but without a bachelor’s degree, he’s worried he won’t be able to compete with younger job candidates who are recent college graduates.
“I think the bachelor’s is becoming the minimum standard for a lot of higher paying jobs,” he said Friday.
This spring he enrolled at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Bangor campus to pursue a bachelor’s degree in justice studies, but he said his finances only allow him to take one course at a time.
“It would be nice to be able to speed that up,” he said.
Thanks to a new scholarship program aimed at adult students who have begun but not completed a four-year degree program, he might be able to achieve his goal.
Students who are returning to one of the system’s seven campuses after being out for three or more years may be eligible for up to $4,000 a year for four years, UMS announced Friday.
“Maine has over 200,000 adults with some college, but no degree,” said UMS chancellor James Page in a prepared statement. “That is a significant stranded cost — both in terms of monies invested and opportunities lost. Our goal is to work with these folks to help them achieve their educational goals and move Maine forward.”
In 2012, almost 20 percent of the state’s population over age 24 had achieved some college, but had not earned a degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Adult students age 25 or older currently represent more than 36 percent of all students enrolled in degree programs and more than 60 percent of those attending part time,” the statement announcing the scholarship said.
The new scholarship program, called the Adult Degree Completion Scholarship Fund, will be funded using revenue the system gets from the state’s casinos and a one-time appropriation from the state Legislature last year, the statement said.
Two percent of Hollywood Casino’s slot revenue and four percent of Oxford Casino’s slot revenue are designated for scholarships for the University of Maine System and Maine Maritime Academy, according to Maine’s Gambling Control Board. UMS expects to receive about $1 million next year and will offer varying amounts of scholarship money to at least 250 students a year.
As part of the new program, UMS is designating administrators at each of the system’s seven campuses and university college centers to be a point person for adult students.
“Unlike traditional age students, most adults are also balancing work, family, and other commitments,” said Bonnie Newsom of Eddington, a member of the UMS Board of Trustees who also serves on the Adult Baccalaureate Completion Distance Education committee. “As a result, financial help and the assistance of a concierge may mean the difference between finishing that degree — or not.”
Deadlines to apply for the scholarship are May 8, August 1 and December 1.
According to the UMS website, applicants must meet the following criteria in order to qualify for the scholarship:
— Must be a matriculated student at a UMS institution seeking a first baccalaureate degree.
— Must be a resident of Maine.
— Must be an undergraduate reentry student who has experienced a gap of three years or more in the pursuit of postsecondary education. Students who returned to higher education beginning in fall 2013 or more recently will be considered.
— Must demonstrate financial need as determined by a completed FAFSA and-or statement outlining ability to pay and financial resources available for education.
— Must be registered at least part time: 6-8 credits per semester in fall and spring or 9-12 credits total for the two semesters.
Applications for the scholarship program can be found at http://www.maine.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ABCDE-scholarship-application-for-web.pdf.