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A program that helps Maine students attend college will end due to a lack of federal funding

University Enrollment
Robert F. Bukaty
In this photo made Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, blue-shirted upperclassmen help move items belonging to incoming freshman at the University of Maine in Orono.

A college aspirations program aimed at rural, low-income Maine students is coming to an end this fall, as the U.S. Department of Education has stopped funding it.

Over the past few decades, the GEAR UP Maine program has served thousands of students across rural Maine on college visits, preparation, financial aid, and coaching programs to keep them in school.

The latest grant began in 2014, with the organization Syntiro administering the program and the University of Maine at Farmington operating as a fiscal agent.

Project Director Debbie Gilmer said that the program is unique in its long-term support for students, beginning in seventh grade.

"So that ongoing, long-term support, is critical. Our services built on one another," Gilmer said.

Operators of Maine's program had hoped to secure federal funding over the past year to continue the program. But the U.S. Department of Education rejected the Maine application last year, and chose not to fund it again this fall.

"[Students] just don't have, at home, typically, the support, the aspirations, the expectation, that kids can be successful in college. It will be devastating to the state," said Gilmer.

Gilmer said Maine is one of only a few states without any current funding for the federal GEAR UP program.

Maine's congressional delegation questioned the decision not to fund the program last year, and voiced concerns about the how program grants were awarded.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education did not return a request for comment.