$1 million gift to USM supports needs of talented, underserved students from Maine

The University of Southern Maine (USM) Foundation announced a gift of $1,000,000 to support two critically important scholarship programs at the University: the Access to Education Fund and the Promise Scholarship Program. The gift, from donors who prefer to remain anonymous, will impact unique programs that offer life-changing opportunities for underserved Maine students at USM.

The gift includes $250,000 allocated to the Access to Education Fund, the largest gift to date for this high-impact program. Access to Education is an in-demand scholarship for Maine residents who are not eligible to receive state or federal financial aid, an increasing percentage of students at Maine’s most diverse campus community. These funds will be put to immediate use over the next five years, helping 12 to 15 USM students afford the costs of college each year, with awards that range from $1,000 to $5,000.

“Often, Access recipients are in the process of applying for citizenship or otherwise navigating the backlogged immigration system,” said USM’s Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Nancy Griffin. “From the beginning, the need for this scholarship has perpetually exceeded the fund’s capacity—and we are deeply grateful for this urgently needed funding.”

In 2021, Hannaford Supermarkets generously granted USM $100,000 to replenish the Access to Education Fund, helping to sustain the program. The latest gift will enable USM to continue meeting this growing need over the next five years.

The remaining $750,000 of the anonymous gift will support USM’s unique Promise Scholarship Program, which 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. Specifically, the gift will provide five years of funding in two areas: implementation of programming and support services, and expanded scholarship aid to factor in on-campus room and board expenses.

“The Promise Scholarship has proven extraordinarily effective in its first four years, thanks to the robust student supports we’ve put in place,” said Ainsley Wallace, President & CEO of the USM Foundation. “For our Scholars, scholarship dollars are the key that opens the door of opportunity—but it is proactive, tailored student support programs that empower first-generation students to navigate the academic environment and persist to graduation. Now, through the generosity of these special donors, we can offer Promise Scholars the opportunity to live on campus and experience the academic benefits of a residential college experience. This is a vital retention tool and one of the most important factors in student success. I want to thank our donors for making it possible for USM to continue to keep our promise to our Promise Scholars.”

The Promise Scholarship currently provides scholars with a multi-year “top-off” scholarship to cover 100% of USM tuition and fees; the average scholarship amount for the 2021-2022 academic year totaled $3,600 per student. This gift allows Promise to factor in on-campus room and board expenses and offer additional targeted aid that will further minimize Scholar’s reliance on federal student loans.

Funding will support key Promise Scholarship programming initiatives, including the residential Scholar Immersion Experience that serves to facilitate first-year scholars’ transition to USM and helps them acclimate to the college environment each August; Promise Peer Mentoring, which matches Promise upperclassmen with incoming Scholars; an annual Promise Scholars Community Reception with a keynote speaker; and a series of monthly events and workshops, as well as community engagement and volunteer service projects.

Daniel Barton, the Program’s coordinator shared, “Promise strives to establish a relationship-rich experience that strengthens our Scholars’ sense of belonging to campus and peer connections that root them in the campus community. One of the most important student success factors is the residential experience, which correlates closely with academic success and persistence. Unfortunately, affording on-campus living expenses is not always within reach for Promise Scholars. This tremendous gift makes the on-campus living experience possible for those students who will benefit most.”

Over the next five years, the generosity of these anonymous donors will ensure that vital programs for first-generation Maine students will be stronger than ever at the University of Southern Maine.

A high-impact, in-demand program

The Access to Education Scholarship was established in 2017 with the goal of encouraging the growth of a vibrant and diverse student population at USM—and responding to the particular challenges of Maine residents who are not eligible to receive state or federal Financial Aid. Often, Access recipients are applying for citizenship, Dreamers, or otherwise navigating the backlogged immigration process. Preference is given to individuals from traditionally underrepresented populations, first-generation college students, students with diverse experiences, or students coming to Maine from an international geographic location.

These students are working hard to move forward with their lives. Typically,

  • They have established Maine residency
  • They often begin at a community college and complete their 4-year degrees at USM
  • They may or may not be eligible to work, depending on their immigration status.

Since the program’s inception, the need for these scholarships has exceeded the fund’s capacity: there is a perpetual waitlist. During academic year 2021-22, USM was able to award scholarships to 13 of 27 applicants. In the previous year, 15 scholarships were awarded, with eight recipients graduating in the spring.

In 2021, Hannaford Supermarkets generously granted USM $100,000 to replenish the Access to Education Fund, which has helped to sustain this urgently needed scholarship. The new, anonymous gift of $250,000 will significantly impact a program that makes a life-changing difference for a growing number of USM students.


Promise: More than a Scholarship 
A program with statewide impact, Promise is a highly efficient multi-year scholarship designed to bridge the financial aid gap for limited-income, first-generation Maine students. Promise focuses on eliminating barriers to successful degree completion, enabling students to overcome financial, academic, and cultural barriers, remain in school, and graduate in four years. The program serves Maine undergraduates, including veterans, and provides a robust academic and social support system to ensure success. This comprehensive, wrap-around program includes:

  • Promise Scholarship Semester Check-Ins, where scholars meet with the scholarship coordinator to check in on their overall progress in their classes, how scholars are managing day-to-day challenges, and goal development outlined and reviewed within a college success plan.
  • Promise Scholarship Virtual Summer Workshop Series , which builds community among the incoming cohort and ensures essential tasks are complete prior to the start of the academic year through a variety of engaging activities and one-to-one meetings.
  • Promise Scholarship Immersion Experience, where new scholars are welcomed to campus one week prior to the start of the fall semester for a dynamic program full of team building activities, community service projects, and workshops that prepare students for their first semester. 
  • The First-Gen Living Learning Community, which provides scholars the opportunity to live on the same floor in a close-knit community on the Gorham campus and enroll in a one-credit lab focused on leadership development, goal setting, and connection to civic engagement.
  • Promise Peer Mentoring, through which upperclassmen Promise Scholars mentor incoming Scholars 
  • Evaluation in partnership with the research team at USM’s Muskie School & Cutler Institutes to expand upon our evaluation of student success and program benchma

Now in its fourth year, the program serves 83 scholars from every corner of Maine. Next year, USM will meet its original goal of supporting 100 Promise Scholars every year and the University is pursuing opportunities to expand the program to support even more Promise Scholars in the future.  
To date, the program has proven to be remarkably effective: 

  • Geographic diversity: 37 high schools from 14 of 16 Maine counties are represented, with plans to reach the remaining counties this year 
  • Persistence rates: From spring 2020 to fall 2021, persistence rates were 72% for Promise Scholars, compared with 64.8% for USM overall 
  • Student debt: 81% of all Promise Scholars have no student loan debt after their first year
    • Partner organizations: USM works with more than 30 youth-serving agencies and schools across the state to help identify Promise candidates.