PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The U.S. Department of Education will review applications for nearly $624,000 in grant funding for the University of Maine Presque Isle that had been rejected by the agency last month because of minor clerical errors, according to Maine’s congressional delegation.
Federal funding for the UMPI Upward Bound program, which would have benefitted an estimated 960 students over the next five years, had been rejected because of line-spacing errors on two of the 65 pages in the applications.
U.S. Department of Education rules require that Upward Bound applications be double spaced, but two pages contained infographics that had only 1.5 spaces between lines.
“The department’s initial refusal to review the University of Maine at Presque Isle and other institutions’ applications due to minor formatting issues simply defied common sense,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree of Maine said in a joint statement issued Wednesday. “We worked tirelessly to reverse this senseless bureaucratic decision that jeopardized the education and hopes of hundreds of students in Maine who depend on Upward Bound to succeed in higher education.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told members of a House Appropriations committee Wednesday that she had decided to allow UMPI’s applications and those of other institutions affected by the same issue to be evaluated on their merits, the delegation reported.
Forty colleges and universities in 17 states also had their applications rejected due to similar errors and school officials were not given an opportunity to correct the mistakes. UMPI was the only school in Maine affected. Senators from 23 states, including Maine, signed a letter last month rebuking DeVos for the government’s decision.
The senators criticized the move to exclude applications “due to minor, non-substantive concerns” that would jeopardize a program benefitting first-time, low-income students.
Upward Bound helps high school students who have college potential but limited resources with the programs they need to be prepared academically and financially for college.
Darylen Cote, director of TRiO College Access Services at UMPI, said Wednesday that she was overwhelmed by the support of Maine’s congressional delegation and the more than 1,700 UMPI alumni, former Upward Bound students and their parents who flooded Devos’ office with letters in support of the Upward Bound program.
“I heard the good news during a budget meeting this afternoon,” said Cote. “This is astonishing. Senator Collins called me and left me a two minute message and I’m going to play it for the whole staff. We have our fingers cross it will be approved but I fully expect we will be in the winners section. We have met all of our objections for the grant in the past.”
Cote said that officials are hoping to hear news about funding next month.
Although the process has been trying, Cote said it has been a teachable moment for her.
“I am never going to make another line spacing error again,” she said Wednesday.