ORLAND, Maine — Ahead of the imminent closure of Verso’s paper mill in Bucksport, the University of Maine at Augusta announced a plan that could help some laid-off workers get on the path to a new career faster.

UM-Augusta will work with Verso workers who already have an associate degree to figure out how to turn their previous education and work experience into a bachelor’s degree at an accelerated pace.

“Because the Verso millworkers are highly trained and well certified, and many already have their Associate’s degree, they may be much closer than they think to a bachelor’s degree, ” UM-Augusta President Glenn Cummings said in a statement on Thursday.

The hope is that previously earned degrees, certificates and work experience may be able to be translated into course credits toward a bachelor’s degree. UM-Augusta is based in the state capital but has a campus in Bangor. It’s mission is to serve nontraditional students.

That’s a prospect that sounds attractive to Lance Raymond, of Prospect, who said he has worked at the mill since 1980.

“I’m 55 years old and it’s a hard market and you need all the help you can get,” he said at a job fair in Orland Thursday held for soon to be displaced workers. Representatives from UM-Augusta attended the job fair to speak to Verso employees about their offerings.

“Where I have an associate degree from Eastern Maine Community College, I thought it could be a great opportunity to get my bachelor’s degree,” Raymond said, explaining that he’d learned about UM-Augusta’s offering on the mill’s website. “And they’ve agreed to waive the application fee so I had to take a look at it.”

Cummings thinks some may be able to turn their associate degree into a bachelor’s in a year or a year and a half, as opposed to the three years it often takes.

“We know that the best jobs in Maine are attached to a bachelor’s degree,” he said. Cummings hopes UM-Augusta can make that option more attractive.

One program he said makes sense for Verso Paper workers to look into is the applied science degree, which prepares students for jobs as research assistants or lab technicians. Places like the Jackson Lab, in Bar Harbor, and biotech companies in Portland have those types of jobs available, he said.

He said the business degree may also be one that former Verso employees could work toward, which is the program Raymond said he is interested in.

Verso Paper announced in early October that the Bucksport mill’s final day of paper production would be Dec. 1 and that 570 employees would be laid off. The announcement followed closures of mills in Old Town and Millinocket earlier this year, resulting in a loss of an estimated 1,000 jobs between the three mills.

Nell is the education reporter for the Bangor Daily News, but she will be helping out the political team by covering the 2nd Congressional District election this year. Before joining the Bangor Daily News...