This fall, the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Houlton Higher Education Center marks two decades of serving the community and providing a wide range of educational opportunities to the region. While an in-person celebration was not able to take place in September due to health and safety precautions, officials are still finding ways to celebrate the milestone.
“The Houlton Higher Education Center has helped to change so many lives since its doors opened in 2001,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “We are so pleased to mark this special anniversary and to showcase the partners, the people, and the work they do every day to support local learners and help them on their diverse academic journeys.”
The Houlton Center, a University of Maine at Presque Isle facility, has worked for the last 20 years to provide students with the very best in educational experiences and services. The center brings a wide variety of educational programs under one roof, giving residents from southern Aroostook, western New Brunswick, and northern Washington and Penobscot counties a chance to prepare for college, earn their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, take refresher courses, or participate in lifelong learning activities.
UMPI’s partners at the center include: the University of Maine System Student Success Center; University of Maine at Augusta; University of Maine Cooperative Extension/4-H; Northern Maine Community College; RSU 29 and MSAD 70 Adult and Community Education; and TRIO Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Maine Educational Opportunity Center. The Center also serves as a resource location for the Maine Military and Community Network.
“The Houlton Higher Education Center is a vital part of this community, providing educational opportunities to many who may not have the opportunity otherwise. We are a true access point for those looking for an educational pathway,” Tracy Rockwell, Houlton Higher Education Center Director, said.
The vision of many local citizens and educators, the center first took shape in 1999 as the result of a grassroots community effort to re-establish a formal home for higher education in the southern Aroostook area. At the time, UMPI maintained a modest education center in Houlton, and then-Northern Maine Technical College also had a presence there, but the Houlton community was looking to fill a larger void left after Ricker College closed in 1979. The community group worked collaboratively with the University of Maine System, the then-Maine Technical College System, and other educational entities to bring the center to fruition.
The idea was to transform a 15,500-square-foot building, formerly a Shop ‘n Save grocery store, into a one-of-a-kind educational facility. When approached by the University of Maine System, Hannaford Brothers graciously agreed to donate the Military Street building to the University. In order to pay for the $2 million renovation, officials received strong support from County legislators, and critical leadership from then Maine State Senator Michael Michaud in securing state funding for the center. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, and in Fall 2001, the center welcomed its first students.
“The Houlton Higher Education Center is such a special place,” Michael H. Michaud, former U.S. Congressman and University of Maine System Board of Trustees member, said. “It’s impacted so many people in so many positive ways as they’ve sought education as a means to a brighter future. I couldn’t be more proud that one of the things I was able to do early on as a Maine State Senator was to secure funding for the Center. I am so pleased to see the work it continues to do 20 years later.”
Each Houlton Center partner has its own educational niche that helps to make the center such a valuable, all-in-one resource. The UMS Student Success Center provides a student success coach for statewide and local learners. UMA offers onsite courses as well as online degree and certificate programs. Cooperative Extension provides unbiased research from the University of Maine—from nutrition and agriculture to natural resources—for homes, businesses, and farms. Northern Maine Community College offers online classes in the areas of business, nursing and allied health, and liberal studies.
The RSU 29/MSAD 70 Adult and Community Education program provides high school completion, HiSet, vocational, and community education, as well as senior enrichment programs, and offers the College Access Program. TRIO, a federally funded program, prepares underserved students for college and is open to students who qualify financially, or will be the first in their families to attend college. Maine Educational Opportunity Center is focused on increasing the awareness of post-secondary educational opportunities available to Maine’s low income, first generation adults who desire to pursue a college degree. The Maine Military and Community Network is a community effort that works to understand, prevent, and help address the challenges faced by current and former military members and their families, as well as their communities.
Also at the center, UMPI offers classes for the bachelor’s degree in Business, Elementary Education, Liberal Studies, and the associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Criminal Justice, as well as online courses for bachelor’s degrees in English, History and Psychology. The University also hosts the Native Education Center, established to better serve Native American students and provide them with strong support as they complete their college educations, and High School Aspirations, aimed at increasing the number of students who access and succeed in college.
The Houlton Center has been celebrating its 20th anniversary with spotlights on social media and plans to feature local alums. In addition, later this fall, UMPI will mark the milestone with a commemorative publication that will appear in an issue of the Houlton Pioneer Times.
“The staff and partners here are all very passionate about and dedicated to providing the best support services, advising, and career counseling to all who enter the building,” Rockwell said. “They do this all while creating a strong sense of community, both internally and externally. All levels of learning and education are important to helping individuals grow, and having such a wide range of educational opportunities like that here at the Houlton Center helps in creating a stronger community.”