BANGOR Maines lowest-income high school graduates will have added opportunities for a university education under a new plan proposed by University of Maine System Chancellor Joseph W. Westphal.
On Monday Westphal outlined his Low-Income Student Scholarship Program at a meeting in Bangor of the UMS Board of Trustees. The proposal, for which Westphal is seeking state funding, would cover the gap between the cost of a full-time university education in Maine and amount a qualifying student receives in education waivers, grants, work-study funds, and other scholarships.
To be eligible, the student would have to be a Maine resident with a reported family income at or below 150 percent of the established poverty level. Furthermore, a qualifying student would have had to graduate from high school with at least a 2.5 grade-point average. While attending a public university in Maine, the student would need to be enrolled as a full-time student, maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average, and accept part-time work-study employment on campus.
Westphal estimated that as many as 4,000 students would benefit from the program over a four-year period.
The $11 million scholarship proposal is the primary element of the trustees $16.4 million supplemental budget request for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2004. Other elements of the budget request include:
- $2 million in state funds to be used to leverage several millions of dollars in federal research and development funds;
- $1.1 million to expand the nursing degree opportunities offered within the university system;
- $800,000 to continue funding the Public Education Partnership, a pilot program between the State and the University System designed to help Maines schools meet the current and upcoming teacher shortage;
- $665,000 in need-based grants to students for purchasing laptop computers;
- $500,000 for UMaines Fogler Library, which is the states designated science, business, and technology library; and
- $300,000 for campus safety improvements.
The budget request will be submitted to Gov. John E. Baldacci for his consideration.
Noting the states current financial condition, Westphal said his budget request is intended to strengthen the University Systems value to the state as a partner in addressing Maines educational and economic condition.
"The scholarship plan and the other items we are asking the Governor to consider are investments in Maines future, Westphal said.
Explaining the scholarship proposal, Westphal and others cited research that documents the relationship between low income and higher education attainment. According to national statistics, the higher a states percentage of residents holding at least a bachelors degree, the lower that states poverty rate.
According to the research, Maines poverty rate is 11.9 percent, equal to the national average. Twenty-three percent of Maine residents have earned at least a bachelors degree. Under Westphals plan, increasing the affordability of higher education would encourage more Maine residents especially those who have not pursued higher education because of cost to seek a university degree.
Under Westphals proposal, the new scholarship would make available whatever funds are necessary after the student applicant has received all available forms of merit and need-based financial aid, such as grants, waivers, work-study funds and other scholarship dollars. As proposed, scholarship recipients would have to be enrolled full-time in one of Maines seven public universities and would remain eligible for four years of aid so long as they maintained at least a 2.5 grade-point average.
The Westphal plan also covers community college graduates who want to transfer into the University of Maine System after completing their associates degree, so long as the student graduated from a community college with at least a 2.5 grade-point average.
Without this type of scholarship program, Maines lowest-income students will continue to be unable to receive a university-level education, Westphal explained. We need to break the cycle and allow Maines neediest residents to attain a university education to help them elevate their earning power and quality of life.
In other business, trustees gave Westphal approval to continue negotiating with the City of Bangor about a proposed property exchange between UMS and the City. The City has proposed turning over to UMS the W.T. Grant building in downtown Bangor in exchange for properties UMS owns near Bangor International Airport. Under the proposal, the City would renovate the Grant building to the university systems specifications as part of the exchange.