FARMINGTON — Putting two children through college has been a struggle for Charlotte Borst, one of three finalists competing to become president of University of Maine at Farmington.

Her son, Stefan, 26, is in law school and her daughter, Zosia, 24, is working toward a graduate degree in social work. Despite getting financial help from their parents, however, both children will face burdensome debt from college loans when they graduate.

That’s the example Borst, 59, used to show what she said is among the biggest challenges facing universities nationwide, including the liberal arts college in Farmington where she hopes to tackle the growing debt problem graduates are facing with their student loans.

During a visit Thursday to the campus at the end of downtown Farmington, Borst described her plans to make UMF a model for improving access to an affordable and high-quality college education.

She is the second candidate to visit the campus during the final stages of a search to replace outgoing President Theodora J. Kalikow, who is retiring in June after 18 years leading the college.

Borst, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Whittier College in Whittier, Calif., noted she applied for the position because Kalikow has already made great strides in the battle to tear down financial barriers to higher education.

The small University of Maine System college in Franklin County has gained national recognition for promoting public liberal arts colleges as the solution to the problem, Borst said. She added the university has steadily worked to make more scholarships available and help improve students’ access to other financial aid, which are efforts Borst hopes to expand upon.

Having spent the last 12 years working at private liberal arts colleges, Borst plans to use her experience with fundraising and forming partnerships with business leaders to develop new ways to pay for new programs and scholarships at UMF.

While she was a college administrator at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., for example, Borst helped start a new biology program through a partnership with the Memphis Zoo. Another example is her work with philanthropists who funded international internships and community outreach programs for students at Whittier College, she said.

Among her other goals for the presidency, Borst described building up the four legs of a quality college education by constantly improving professional internships, classroom experience, undergraduate research and cultural competence.

She wants to grow the college’s strong internship programs at local school districts, which provide careers to a lot of college students after graduation. She also plans to expand on the innovative health care administration internship program at Franklin Community Health Network.

Borst touted her plans to devise new private/public partnerships as the best way to give college students more educational options, ranging from unique academic research to international exchange programs.

She praised Kalikow, for instance, for forging student exchange programs with universities in China and other countries that are ready for future growth under the next president.

These exchange programs give students the cultural competence required to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, she said.

Borst called it an honor to be considered for the presidency, saying she would be thrilled to return to New England. She grew up in Rutland, Vt., before going on to get a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and master’s from Tufts University.

Borst has a doctorate in history of science and medicine with an American history minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives with her husband, Richard Censullo, in Whittier.

Following the candidate campus visits, the president search committee will review feedback and present its findings to the University of Maine System chancellor. One candidate will be recommended to the full Board of Trustees for approval, and the new president is expected to start this summer.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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