The University of Maine System is working to entice people with partially completed college degrees to come back to school.

The program, dubbed Finish Strong, will use $750,000 in grant money to provide financial incentives, including a $300 payment for returning UMaine students who complete their degrees and a buy-one-get-one-free discount on a student’s first course. The system also will pair each student in the program with an adviser.

Courses will be offered online and at the flagship University of Maine campus in Orono, the University of Maine at Machias and the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The system hopes to enroll the program’s first cohort of students this spring.

There are more than 280,000 Mainers who have college credits but no degree, according to the UMaine system.

“Providing a pathway for these adults to complete their bachelor’s degrees would provide them with the specialized knowledge and skills they need to get promotions, advance their careers and earn higher incomes,” said Scott Marzilli, UMaine’s associate provost for student success and innovation.

People with college degrees generally earn more than those without. For example, bachelor’s degree holders generally earn 75% more than those with only a high school diploma, according to a Georgetown University report, The College Payoff. But those with some college but no degree don’t get those benefits.


The program will offer bachelor’s degrees and certificates and is aimed at Mainers who are 25 years old or older and immigrants new to the state, as well as those with an associate degree who are interested in earning a bachelor’s. The program includes English language support and an adviser specifically tasked with supporting refugees, asylum seekers and asylum grantees.

The system already enrolls students in the demographic it is targeting in the Finish Strong program – older students who previously dropped out of college and now want to complete their degrees. The effort to recruit even more is part of the system’s long-term strategy to reverse its declining enrollment.

A 2023-28 strategic plan states that Maine’s university system will be “the statewide leader in adult degree completion, credentialing, industry certifications and licensure preparation.”

The UMaine system has been watching its enrollment drop for years. As of Monday, there were 19,498 undergraduate students enrolled in the UMaine system. There were 20,082 at this time last year – 28 days after the start of the term. Five years ago there were 22,332.

That amounts to a 12.7% drop in enrollment over five years. Enrollment accounts for a significant amount of the system’s revenue. The decline in enrollment, among other factors, has left the system in financial straits.

Recruiting students with some college but no degree is one of the system’s many strategies to stay afloat financially. Other initiatives include heavy investment in infrastructure at the system’s seven campuses in an attempt to attract and retain students, scrapping courses with low enrollment, decreasing redundancy across campuses and increasing online learning options.

When asked what financial benefit the Finish Strong program is expected to provide the system, officials said the goal of the program is to help Mainers who started college finish their degrees.

Like UMaine, university systems around the country are struggling financially. In addition to decreasing enrollment caused by a shrinking population of young people, pandemic disruption and a growing apathy about the value of higher education in the face of soaring student debt, schools also are dealing with the financial implications of decades of government disinvestment.

The UMaine system released its 2023-28 strategic plan this summer. It continues to add details to its five-year plan, which is the first strategic plan in 19 years. Each system campus is scheduled to provide individual strategic plans aligned with the system’s on Oct. 1.

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