Accelerate ME plans to graduate more community college students

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 26th, 2011 

Three community colleges in Maine are offering a new scholarship and assistance program, Accelerate ME, for students who have a hard time completing the requirements of an associate degree.

“The intent of the program is to help folks who haven’t been able to complete their degrees because they’ve been challenged by time or money,” said Helen Pelletier, of the Maine Community College System.

The program hopes to increase graduation rates. Less than one-third of first-time, full-time students who enrolled in Maine community colleges in 2007 graduated within three years.

According to the Maine Compact for Higher Education twenty percent of working-age adults in Maine – about 189,000 people – have earned some college credit but lack degrees.

The pilot program is being offered at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland Central Maine Community College in Auburn, and York County Community College in Wells. Students are eligible for the grant-funded program if they are 21 or older, have at least 30 credits toward a 60-credit degree program and have been enrolled in classes within the last five years.

Program coordinators on each campus will provide academic support and help to develop a network of students in the program. Each college plans to enroll 35 students in Accelerate ME this fall and 40 students in the fall of 2012. The program will help students pay for tuition, fees and books.

The pilot program is expected to serve 225 students in all. If it is successful and receives additional funding, Accelerate ME will be expanded to the other five community colleges in Maine.

In 2003 Gov. John Baldacci transformed Maine’s technical schools into community colleges, which now have a long waiting list for admission. While university costs have become a deterrent to higher education, community college encourage enrollment because the rates are far more reasonable. And more people have realized that having a degree dramatically increases a person’s income.

Accelerate ME is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation and a $250,000 grant from Unum.