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USM Builds New Partnership with Aspirations Incubator

PORTLAND, ME (January 17, 2023) — The University of Southern Maine’s Promise Scholarship program has entered into a new partnership with the Aspirations Incubator, which includes five youth-serving organizations from around the state of Maine. The partnership broadens access to higher education by providing eligible students with a multi-year, “top-off” scholarship that ensures 100% of their need is met in covering tuition, fees, and on-campus living expenses.

A program with statewide impact, USM’s unique Promise Scholarship program supports up to 100 scholars every year – 25 new students annually – and pairs targeted financial aid with comprehensive wrap-around services that support the success of limited-income, first-generation Maine students who are referred by youth-serving organizations throughout the state. Since the program began in 2018, Promise has awarded more than $1 million in direct student aid to 108 students representing 42 high schools in each of Maine’s 16 counties. The scholarship is designed to enable students to graduate in four years with minimal to no debt and engage in high-impact experiences that are key to successfully navigating a college degree and developing critical skills essential to career success.

“The partnership between the Promise Scholarship and Aspirations Incubator not only removes financial barriers for deserving students, but also establishes continuity of support for rural Maine students as they transition into college,” said Daniel Barton, director of the Promise Scholarship program. “We are thrilled to partner with Aspirations Incubator and expand our reach across the state. Strategic partnerships strengthen the university’s ties to the community and enhance our mutual efforts to retain students here in Maine.”

Aspirations Incubator (AI) is a six-year pilot initiative launched in 2017 by the Rural Futures Fund that provides long-term, comprehensive mentoring programs in rural Maine communities to increase resiliency, build aspirations, and introduce young people to new opportunities. The Rural Futures Fund decided to focus exclusively on this effort and committed more than $8 million — the entirety of its endowment — to the Aspirations Incubator pilot programs. 

More than 280 youths at five partner sites currently participate in AI programs, which start in 7th grade and continue through high school. At each AI site, a local youth-serving organization is paired with a nearby school district: EDGE Program of the Maine Seacoast Mission and SAD 37 in Cherryfield; Old Town/Orono YMCA and RSU 34 in Old Town; Game Loft and RSU 3 in Thorndike; Chewonki and RSU 1 in Bath; and University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H Center at Bryant Pond and SAD 44 in Bethel.

The first cohort of more than 60 Aspirations Incubator participants will be graduating from high school in the spring of 2023, having been immersed for six years in mentoring, experiential learning, social and emotional development, and college and career readiness program activities. The Promise Scholarship program has been following the evolution of the Aspirations Incubator and now that the first AI students are graduating, the timing couldn’t be better to build a solid partnership with AI and its members. 

“The way the Promise Scholarship is structured fully aligns with the uniqueness of how the AI model is designed,” said Don Carpenter, executive director of the Rural Futures Fund. “Each of our AI students have been surrounded by caring adult and peer mentors throughout their six-year educational experience while in the program. If our students get accepted into the Promise Scholarship program, not only will they have 100% of their financial needs met, but they also will receive another four years of continuous support from caring adult mentors on campus who will look out for them, walk alongside them, and guide them throughout their college experience. We would be honored to pass the relational baton of support over to the Promise Scholarship team to continue what we started.” 

Prospective students considering attending the University of Southern Maine in fall 2023, should apply for the Promise Scholarship by March 15. Twenty-five scholarships are awarded to applicants statewide each year.

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