Nancy Taylor of Franklin is a student in the one year Medical Assisting program at Eastern Maine Community College. In Clinical Lab II, the students were learning about injections.

Nancy Taylor was in her third year at Eastern Maine Community College studying liberal arts when she heard about a new, free medical assisting training the college planned to offer starting in fall 2019.

She had always wanted to get into the medical field, but this time, she would not have to spend any money to start her training. Everything — from tuition to the books, scrubs and a stethoscope — would be covered.

Taylor, 38, of Franklin is one of 40 students in the one-year, medical assisting certificate program whose costs are fully covered thanks to a $3.6 million Harold Alfond Foundation grant that’s allowed the Maine Community College System to establish 11 new workforce training programs in high-demand fields at five of its seven campuses.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

“I chose to do this because of the opportunity to finish my schooling and not have a huge loan,” Taylor said. “I have four children, so paying for school loans is really difficult. It’s really nice to not have to stress about financial issues during this school year and instead I can just focus on my education.”

On Thursday afternoon in a lab on the Bangor campus, Taylor and three other students learned how to administer injections. Instructor Angela Parks walked them through the procedure as the students practiced picking out the right syringe to use for different situations, drawing liquids from vials and injecting silicone pads meant to simulate flesh.

“We want their first success and first failure to be in the classroom,” Parks said.

In the first year of the three-year grant, about 180 students have enrolled in three different academic programs with all of their costs covered. The programs are in medical assisting, welding and computer support. The courses vary in length from a year for medical assisting to 10 weeks for computer support, but all three programs prepare students so they can earn industry-recognized certificates.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

“We have all these employers that need workers,” said Dan Belyea, executive director of workforce training for the Maine Community College System. “We looked at what the high-demand jobs are across the state and which of those fit in our wheelhouse.”

Each year of the Alfond grant, the community colleges will offer different programs. Next year, the system will train phlebotomists (people trained to draw blood), heavy equipment technicians and software designers.

The grant has also allowed the system to train six instructors in welding, phlebotomy and precision manufacturing to accommodate the increased numbers of students enrolled in the free programs.

“One of the important pieces of the grant was building capacity,” Belyea said. “If we didn’t have the grant, we wouldn’t be able to increase the number of slots. We’re getting more folks trained, more folks into the jobs.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

More people wanted to enroll in the Eastern Maine Community College medical assisting program than the college could accept. Some 256 people applied for the 40 available grant-funded slots.

Some of those have transferred to the community college from four-year colleges to pursue the free, short-term training. They only take classes related to their field of study without having to complete a traditional college program with general education requirements, according to Abby Rogers, a student in Parks’ clinical lab.

Rogers and another student, Abbey Stoneton, transferred to the community college from Maine Maritime Academy and Husson University respectively, to get into the medical field without having to worry about loans.

“I had no money coming into this,” Rogers said. “I’m glad I got this opportunity.”