FARMINGTON — The U.S. Department of Education announced it has rejected this year’s grant funding for Maine’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) run by the University of Maine at Farmington and Readfield-based company Syntiro.

As a result, Maine’s GEAR UP is without funding and UMF plans to end the program by Fall 2022, when the pre-existing grant expires.

Since 1999, GEAR UP has assisted thousands of “students and families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds” (particularly those from rural communities) in preparation for college or other post-secondary education programs. They do so by offering students from grade seven through the first year of post-secondary education with “tutoring, mentoring, academic and career counseling, and exposure to college campuses.”

According to a news release, the Maine congressional delegation said the DOE “has not provided a justification for why it didn’t prioritize GEAR UP Maine over a non-established state program.” The delegation is comprised of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) and Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-1) and Jared Golden (D-2).

The delegation co-wrote a letter to DOE Secretary Miguel Cardona expressing “concerns about the (DOE’s) rejection of the … application for funding.”

They specifically take issue with ” indications that, in its award decisions, the Department appeared to depart from its statutory requirements” to prioritize funding for educational opportunity programs that were “successful” before 2008, rather than “new” ones.

Additionally, the DOE did not meet estimates it previously made for the GEAR UP funding and awards, the delegation said.

Rather, the DOE announced it has awarded grants to just four programs for a total of $14 million in funding.

This rejection, the delegation wrote, will be “leaving Maine as one of seven states with no further GEAR UP funding moving forward.”

In a statement, UMF President Edward Serna thanked the delegation for “inquiring about the apparent inconsistencies in the U.S. Department of Education’s process and ensuring we have a fair shot at helping more of Maine’s young people reach their full potential through this proven program.

“As part of our commitment to supporting the success of all students — especially those who are from rural communities, the first in their families to pursue postsecondary education or otherwise historically underserved — the University of Maine at Farmington has been proud to partner in the delivery of the GEAR UP program since 1999,” Serna wrote. “In that time, GEAR UP has transformed the futures of thousands of Maine students by raising their aspirations and preparing them to affordably attend and complete college.”

GEAR UP would have served 6,500 students in the next seven years the grant was supposed to fund had it not been pulled, Serna said.

The congressional delegation is asking Cardona and the DOE to answer their questions about these inconsistencies. The DOE has yet to respond.


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