FARMINGTON — Maine’s congressional delegation, which consists of U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, announced on Tuesday, Sept. 26, that approximately $4,058,656 will be awarded annually to the University of Maine for its Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs [GEAR UP] Maine RISE program.

The program, which began in 1998, has worked to prepare Maine students for postsecondary education, with more than 29,000 students involved in the program since 2007. Led by the non-profit Syntiro with support from the University of Maine Farmington, GEAR UP aims to prepare students for postsecondary education from the seventh grade all the way into the first year of college.

“We are incredibly pleased to have GEAR UP funded in Maine again,” Debbie Gilmer, Syntiro executive director​ and GEAR UP Maine project director, said in a press release. “This multi-million dollar investment in youth from Maine’s most rural and economically disadvantaged communities, including a GEAR UP scholarship program, will help address the inequities facing rural students, their families and their communities.”

Over the course of seven years, the grant funding will allow the program to follow cohorts of seventh graders, specifically economically disadvantaged students in rural communities, through to their first year of their post-secondary experience. The previous round of grant funding followed students from 2014 all the way to and including the graduates of 2021.

“Over the last 25 years, the GEAR UP program has transformed the futures of thousands of Maine students by raising their aspirations and preparing them to affordably attend and complete college, helping more of Maine’s young people reach their full potential through this proven program,” UMF President Joseph McDonnell said in a press release.

Gilmer, along with Associate Provost and Dean of Education Katherine Yardley, sat down with The Franklin Journal to talk more about the program and what the end goal of the program will mean for the state.


“Ultimately, we want all students to be well prepared and have equity in their experiences,” Yardley said, “so that when they consider post secondary education, that they are well prepared and can be successful once they actually arrive on a college campus.”

Yardley stated that UMF would contribute by working with education technicians and teachers in bolstering their resources, as well as helping address the shortage of teachers within the state.

“All of us in higher education, who are preparing teachers, are very concerned about the shortage of highly qualified educators,” she said.

The next round of funding will go to benefit students from the class of 2024 all the way to the students in the class of 2030. 2022 and 2023 graduates did not receive assistance in the GEAR UP program as funding for the program was cut in December of 2021.

According to a news release at the time, Maine delegation said the DOE “has not provided a justification for why it didn’t prioritize GEAR UP Maine over a non-established state program.”

When speaking on the gap in the program, Gilmer stated that both UMF and Syntiro have not fully understood why the program wasn’t funded for another seven years.


“Our senators and representatives really were very vocal about how important this is for Maine,” she said. “And we’re very pleased that this grant has been resumed again.”

Gilmer projects the program will service up to 5,600 students over the seven year period, and aims to specifically target districts in Somerset, Franklin, Aroostook, Washington, northern Penobscot, and Piscataquis counties. “So districts that are small, rural, and lack a lot of resources that other school districts have to prepare and support students for college and careers,” Gilmer said.

When asked what the program would do to retain students that earned their degree and encourage them to stay within Maine as opposed to leaving for other states, Gilmer stated, based on her observations, students that come from low income families have a tendency to stay close to home, if not in the town they grew up in.

“They may leave to go to college, but they typically come home,” she said. “The design of our program is really grounded in what does the local community need, and how can we encourage kids to get excited about the opportunities for careers in their communities.”

For more information about what the GEAR UP program has to offer students, please visit the website at

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